by K. Stoley



DISCLAIMER: This story involves a relationship between two women.

Abbreviations and Definitions -

SWI = Standard Work Instructions (visual instructions for each workstation on an Assembly line that tells the worker how to perform their specific functions.)

LA = Lower Automotive, Inc.

IE = Industrial Engineer


Alexi grabbed her gear out of the back of her pickup and headed toward the back of the building. She entered through the large bay doors and walked slowly over to the time clock. After punching in, she stowed most of her gear in her locker and headed over to her workstation. The line was idle during shift change and she spent the time checking over her equipment, to make sure everything was in working order.

"Hey Alexi!" A booming voice sounded behind her and she turned smiling to face her co-worker, Angel.

"Hey Angel, how 's it going? Alexi asked as she began her nightly ritual of putting on her protective clothing. The last bit of equipment was her helmet, which she waited until the last to put on. It was too hot in the plant to put it on any sooner than she needed to. The arm pieces were to protect her from the splatter of the weld gun and the helmet was to protect her eyes and give her the ability to work with the welding arc that radiated from her equipment. Alexi had been working for Lower Automotive for the past five years as a welder and enjoyed what she did. It was hard work, but she knew what she was doing and enjoyed using her physical body in her work.

"It's Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us, so I'd say things are going terrific!" Angel replied slapping Alexi on the back in a friendly manner. Alexi gave her an annoyed look and Angel laughed, she was the only one bold enough to do that to Alexi. It was comical to watch as the short, older woman proceeded to tease the tall, raven-haired woman. Angel knew that Alexi's quiet had more to do with her reserved personality, than any anger or dislike on her part.

"So what do you have planned for this weekend?" Angel asked as she prepared her station for the start of the line.

Alexi looked over and shrugged her shoulders, "Just watching the race on Saturday. Angel knew that Alexi was gay as was one of her biggest supporters and friend, but she also knew that Alexi hadn't seen anybody regularly since she had started working there.

"So when are you going to get yourself someone?" Angel asked nudging the taller woman.

"When you dump your husband and come over to the other side." Alexi answered dryly and grinned.

Angel looked over and laughed at the joke, but before she could come back with a smart remark, the line began to move and the two women quickly set to their respective tasks. The noise was too great for them to carry on any sort of conversation, so they worked in silence for the next four hours. During break time Alexi stepped outside with Angel, so that the older woman could have a cigarette. Alexi let the cool night air waft over her body as she sat at the picnic table with Angel and a couple of other co-workers.

Angel looked up and called over to a woman who walked toward their table from the parking lot. Alexi glanced over her shoulder and a saw short woman with long blonde hair that fell softly down around her shoulders.

"Hey everyone, I want you to meet Shawn, she just started as an IE this past week." Angel went around and made the introductions ending with Alexi who stuck out her hand and gave the smaller woman a firm handshake.

"Oh, you're one of those." Mickey said gruffly joking. Mickey's stood up to his full 5-ft height and stared the little blonde down. Angel began to giggle and was soon followed by the rest at the table. No one could take Mickey seriously once they got to know him. He was short, tough old coot.

"Yeah, sorry. I'm the one that gets to make your life on the line a nightmare." The blonde answered back smiling. Mickey and everyone laughed outloud at the woman's response.

"This time, try to not make me have to be at two workstations at once." Mickey chuckled and picked up his gear to return inside the plant followed by the rest at the table, leaving just the three women.

"You got it!"

"So, what's up for us now?" Angel asked looking over at the blonde. Shawn was part of the team that designated how each workstation was organized and what work was actually carried our by the individual welders in their specific time frame.

"Same old, trying to improve efficiency without sacrificing quality." Shawn replied, quoting the company's motto in a sarcastic manner.

Alexi grinned, she liked the spunky blonde, especially that she could hold her own against Mickey. Mickey was harmless, but most people couldn't tell when he was joking or when he was serious and usually took everything he said as anger. The blonde had just jumped in and gave him as good as she got.

"No, really. We aren't going to change any of your stations. We are working down on the upload end to see if we can't speed things up for you guys and keep the line running smoothly." Shawn replied and stood up. "Well, I've got to go check into the office. I'll see you later Angel. It was nice meeting you Alexi." Shawn looked over at the raven-haired woman who had silently watched her throughout the conversation. Even covered in all that gear and weld smoke, Shawn could tell that she was a beauty. Walking toward the office she sighed and tried to get her mind back on her job.

"Nice meeting you too." Alexi murmured and noticed the engagement ring on her hand. Sighing, she continued to watch the green-eyed blonde as she walked into the plant thinking, 'Why are all the good ones straight?'

The next day at work, Alexi clocked in and walked through the humid plant to find new workstation instructions tacked to the board in her station. She scanned over the plan and could feel her temper begin to match the heat inside of the plant.

"What the hell is this?" Alexi asked Angel when she walked up behind her.

Angel looked a the board and responded, "Looks like they are changing our jobs again afterall."

"How do they expect us to accomplish 4 of these components in a 1 minute time interval. There is no way you can do these two back to back!" Alexi fumed as she jabbed her finger at the offending instructions to emphasize her point.

"Hell if I know! You heard Shawn, she said they weren't changing our stations again." Angel replied and looked around to catch a glimpse of the woman in question. She was up front by the offices talking to the shift supervisor. "Looks like the line is down for awhile too, want to go outside and get some air so I can have a cigarette?"

"Sure, let's go!" Alexi sighed angrily and followed her friend outside as her mind raced. 'Probably a good idea to cool down. I can't believe the stupidity of these people. They ask for the impossible and wonder why they have so many defective parts in return.'

Alexi stopped off in the restroom on her way back from break and when she came out she ran smack into Shawn and just stopped and glared at her.

"Hello, Alexi right?" The blonde asked hesitantly, she wasn't sure what the look she was receiving was for and stepped back a step.

"Yeah, that's right." Alexi replied and went to move around the blonde and then stopped and turned around. "Can I ask you something?"

"Umm sure, what?"

"Just where the hell did you learn how to do your job? Out of a book? You run around with your little stopwatch and think you know everything, but you don't know Jack! Maybe one of these days you need to get down on the line and actually do the work, and then you can see how impossible your new little scenario is!!" Alexi replied sarcastically and stomped back towards her station without even looking back.

"What the....?" Shawn spat out and watched the tall angry woman walk away. Turning, Shawn walked toward the office and pulled out the new Station Instructions, her face reddening as she scanned the new forms. Slamming the paperwork on her desk, she turned and stormed out of the office.


The weekend went by quiet and uneventful as usual and Monday came all to soon as Alexi found herself walking back toward her workstation sighing with the thought, 'Feels like I just left here!' She set her stuff down and looked up at the board and found that the station instructions had once again changed, holding her rising anger in check she scanned the board. She could feel herself relax when she realized the instructions had pretty much been returned to the way they were. There was also an enveloped tacked to the middle of the board and Alexi pulled it down and opened it.

'Alexi, As you can see I've resolved the issues you had with the SWI's. I would like to add that I didn't appreciate your attack on me personally and my ability to do my job. If you had taken the time to discuss this with me rationally, you would have found that I had nothing to do with the changes. I went about my job, through the proper channels, to find the problem and resolve it, hopefully to your satisfaction. Maybe, one of these days, you should work in my arena and see that it isn't only the line workers that have obstacles in performing their duties. I would never consider a defective end product you're doing without researching the issues fully. Shawn'

Alexi rocked back on her heels as she read the note and thought, 'Well, guess I've been told off! Never quite in such a manner, but the message definitely got the point across.'A brief smirk flittered across Alexi's face as she thought about the spitfire blonde and looked up to see Angel approaching, and tucked the note in the pocket of her uniform.

Shawn sat behind the glass wall of her office and looked out at the plant floor and caught a glimpse of a tall raven-haired woman walking down the main isle. An involuntary smile curved upon her lips as she thought about the woman and the look on her face when she came in to apologize for hasty accusations and what she had said. Ever since that incident, Alexi had always been friendly to her, or at least as friendly as Alexi was capable of, a brief nod in passing was about the extent of their conversations. But, Shawn knew that to Alexi that was a friendly greeting. The telephone rang to break the blonde out of her revere, she answered it and the smile quickly vanished at the sound of the voice on the caller.

"Hello Robert."

"Sorry to bother you at work honey, but I wanted to remind you that we have to go talk to the minister tonight about the ceremony."

"Yes, I remember at 7:30 PM." Shawn replied less than enthusiastic about the appointment. She wasn't that excited about the wedding plans, but had gone along with her fiance, Robert because it was easier that way. She had wanted a totally different ceremony, but Robert and their families had different plans. Shawn had dated Robert off and on since high school and their parents were best friends, getting together almost every Saturday evening for dinner or whatever. It had just seemed natural to everyone that they got together too, everyone except Shawn. She liked Robert, he was a nice guy, but her heart just never seemed to be in the relationship. There hadn't been anyone else that she had wanted more and so, had just gone with the flow of things, the 'natural progression' as her mother liked to term it. There had always been something more that Shawn had wanted, but had never been able to put her finger on it. She just knew that something had always been lacking in her life and it was if she lived each day waiting for it to happen. Robert had sort of understood what she was talking about when she confided in him and he had felt that everything would eventually fall into place for the two of them, Shawn hadn't been as confident.

"Robert do we really have to have such a big wedding, wouldn't it be nicer to have just something small and simple?" She asked for the hundredth time.

"You know everyone is looking forward to this, you do want a nice wedding don't you?" Robert replied, slightly agitated at his fiance's lack of interest in her own wedding. When Shawn didn't respond right away he asked bluntly, "You do want to get married don't you?"

"Oh, uh yeah. It's not that, it's just I thought it would be just so much easier for everyone not to mention less expensive to have a small intimate wedding." Shawn tried to explain and smooth ruffled feathers. She had argued with Robert on more than one occasion about this event and it always came back to him being hurt and asking if she wanted to marry him or not. "Wonder what would happen if I chose the later?'Shawn thought to herself until she heard the hurt in his voice. He didn't deserve to be hurt, he had been nothing but supportive of her in everything, even this job which the rest of the family didn't approve. They did not want her working in a factory. They had some nice little secretarial job in mind for her, which she had quickly vetoed from day one. She was doing what she liked, where she liked and they had eventually come around and accepted that fact, but she knew she wasn't going to win this round too and just accepted her fate.

"So, you are going to pick me up right?" Shawn asked.

"Yes at 7PM and I thought we could get something to eat afterwards?" Robert said hopefully.

"Yes, that would be good. I'll see you at 7PM then, honey." She answered in a cheerful voice before saying her good-byes and hanging up.

Shawn wasn't surprised to see both sets of parents at the church when they arrived. This whole wedding seemed to have become a family affair she thought as she sat down in the minister's office. She had known Pastor Andrew since she was a child and he had always been a warm and personable minister. Tonight, he spoke of dedication and commitment to their undertaking. Shawn had to keep herself from squirming, as she listened to every word and felt a stirring of guilt deep within her. 'What if I am making a big mistake? Am I doing this for me or for everyone else? What if I can't commit the way I am suppose to?' Shawn could feel the panic rising within her and looked around to find everyone staring back at her.

"What?" Shawn croaked and cleared her throat nervously.

"Honey, the pastor was asking if you were alright or did you not agree with what he was asking you?" Shawn's mother asked sharply. She didn't need her daughter falling apart now, sometimes she could be so unresponsive. Robert was a good catch and the families got along, why could she just realize that this was a good thing and not a death sentence.

The blonde looked around nervously at all the faces and it was about all she could take. She knew she couldn't do this...she couldn't be what they wanted of her. She didn't want to be married, to be someone's wife or mother. She couldn't breath anymore and gasped for breath and stood up.

"No, I can't...I can't do this." Shawn choked out as the tears burned her eyes. "I...I can't breathe."

Robert jumped up and put his arms around her and tried to soothe her. "It's okay, we'll just take a break and do this another time."

Shawn pushed him away and looked up at worried brown eyes. "I'm sorry Robert. I can't do this ever. I don't want to marry you or anyone." She turned and ran out the door as she heard her mother yell out to her.

"Shawn no! Come back here now, you can't do this."

Shawn shook her head and ran toward the exit. She stood next to Robert's car as the tears fell down her cheeks. 'What have I just done? Oh God, I can't believe I just said that.' The distraught blonde paced back and forth until she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to face Robert. He face was white with controlled fury.

"What's going on?" he demanded quietly. He didn't want to push her any further away, but he wanted answers and he wanted them now!

"I'm sorry Robert. I just can't do this. I like you very much, you are a good friend but, I can't marry you on those terms." Shawn tried to explain. "Everyone has always pushed us together and said that we make a perfect couple, but have we every sat down and thought about that for ourselves?"

"I love you, what more do I need to think about?" Robert's fury began to break and he stepped back leaning heavily against the car door. "What do you want Shawn a declaration of undying love from me?"

"No, that's just it...I don't want anything from you." Shawn replied. "If it's not a mutual feeling, then what good is it?"

"Tell me this...all these years'did you ever love me?" Robert asked quietly, his anger subsided now that he knew what was at stake. Everything rested on this one question.\par "Robert, I've always loved you. I always will, but I'm not IN love with you." She replied softly and touched the side of his cheek. She hated what she was doing to him, but to go through with the wedding would be worse. He deserves to find someone who can give him everything he is looking for, without reservation and without doubt.

"So, this is it, huh?" He asked closing his eyes and leaning back against the car. Somehow he had known that this would happen, he had just hope it was his imagination, but it wasn't.

"I think it has to be."

Robert looked into her eyes and nodded sadly. "Take my car and I'll pick it up later. I'll go back in and explain things to them and give you some time before they catch up with you at home."

"Thank you Robert." Shawn's tears flowed as she reached up to kiss him gently on the lips. She had wished she had felt more for him, but it just wasn't there no matter how hard she tried or wanted it to be. Removing the engagement ring, she slipped it into his hand before getting behind the wheel. She drove out of the parking lot and watched him in the mirror as she stood in the middle of the parking lot, and she knew he was crying.


The evening had been something out of hell with Shawn's mother screaming well into the night. Shawn rested her forehead against the roof of her car to get her bearings. She was exhausted this morning from the stress and lack of sleep, but she's rather be at work feeling like shit then to be at home with her mother's verbal abuse. She had heard everything from, 'she was throwing her life away', to 'what a disappointment she had turned out to be'. There hadn't been much left that her mother could say to her now that could hurt any worse or lay any heavier a guilt trip then she already had done. Shawn felt a tentative hand on her shoulder and turned to look up into two very deep and very blue eyes looking back in concern.

"Are you alright?" The deep throaty voice asked softly.

"Yes, uh...just tired I guess." Shawn replied stammering. She didn't want to stand in the parking lot and tell Alexi her problems, although looking up into those pool so blue she probably could have told her anything she wanted to know down to her blood type.

"Are you sure?" Alexi asked again, she didn't want to press the issue but the blonde looked extremely pale and shaky. 'Maybe she's picked up the flu?' Alexi thought sympathetically. "Are you sick?"

"Oh no, just stressed." Shawn blurted out before she could stop herself. Feeling foolish she straightened up and stiffened her shoulders and told herself to get a grip. "Nothing getting past QAS won't solve." She added grinning slightly.

Alexi smiled in response and nodded, she was full aware of the quality assurance audits that were on going in the plant. She was sure they served a useful purpose down the line somewhere, but did they have to be so anal about them? "They're a pain in the butt if you ask me."

"I agree, but you didn't hear that from me!" Shawn chuckled as the two women walked toward the plant. Angel caught up with them halfway and began talking with Alexi as Shawn fell silent. After Shawn left the trio to go to her office, Angel inquired, "What' s up with her?

"I don't know I found her in the parking lot with her head on her car, just standing there. She said it was just stress and lack of sleep because of QAS, but I think it's more." Alexi explained shrugging her shoulders to any definitive answer.

"Maybe I'll take a stroll over there on break and see if she wants to talk or anything." Angel replied as the two women began to get ready for the start of the line.

"Hey, see if she wants to go out with us Friday night." Alexi offered causing Angel to raise her eyebrow in question. "Knock it off, I've seen the rock on her finger! I'm not interested in any straight women!" Alexi shook her head annoyed at her friend's reaction to a simple act of kindness. Angel smirked to herself and thought, 'Yeah right and I'm Queen Elizabeth!'

"So what's up did you strike out at the interrogation?" Alexi asked sarcastically when Angel returned frowning. She had left during break to go find Shawn to see what was trouble the blonde.

Angel stuck her tongue out at Alexi who raised her eyebrow expressively in return. Angel laughed, "Don't you wish!"

"In your dreams honey!" Alexi snorted in reply and got up to walk back into the plant with Angel.

"Shawn is about as easy to get information out of as you are! It's like pulling friggin teeth! You two make a good pair." Angel replied looking at Alexi for her response. Alexi just looked over out of the corner of her eye and set her jaw. Angel knew that was the signal to back off but she had to add just one more thing before she let it drop. "I do have some good news for you, she did agree to come out with us on Friday."

"Oh, okay, whatever." Alexi replied and stepped into her work area and quickly began to put her safety equipment back on effectively stopping off any further conversation. Alexi knew Angel well and if she thought she saw a spark of interest, she wouldn't let this go until Alexi either gave in or throttled her. She wasn't ready to do either, so she stopped the conversation quickly.


By the time Friday came, Alexi was more than ready to kick back and relax over a couple of drinks with her friends. They all met at their favorite place near work and, at first, she didn't think Shawn would actually show up. About an hour or so into their little party, the blonde came walking through the door and Angel saw her raven-haired friends hooded eyes light up before she return back to her beer and the conversation. Angel moved over making room for Shawn between herself and Alexi. The blonde slid into the seat between then and said hello to everyone before turning to the Alexi.

"Hi, sorry I'm late." She told the tall woman. Shawn couldn't get over how different she looked when she wasn't wearing her work clothes. The woman was down right gorgeous with her dark hair hanging freely down around her shoulders.

"No problem, what would you like to drink?" Alexi asked smiling back at the blonde. She noticed that Shawn had changed into jeans and a white T-shirt before leaving work. She had to admit that she sure looked good in the simple outfit.

"Whatever everyone is drinking is fine with me." Shawn replied watching Alexi signal the waitress for another pitcher of beer and a glass.

As the evening progressed and other left, they were down to a small group of happy campers. Angel was being her usual entertaining self and everyone was laughing at her antics. Alexi took a deep drag on her cigarette and finished her beer. She knew she was over her limit for the evening and had to quit, she knew that Angel was driving or she never would have had more than one beer. Angel didn't really drink and was more than happy to be the designated driver for everyone whenever they went out. Alexi grinned to herself and she put out her cigarette, for all her bad habits, she was adamant about drinking and driving. She looked up and watched Shawn lift her glass to finish her beer and noticed that she wasn't wearing the engagement ring she had seen earlier. Alexi should have known better, beer had a way of loosening her tongue and she blurted out, "So, what happened to your ring?

Shawn was feeling pretty good and actually enjoying the smoke from Alexi's cigarette. She was almost tempted to ask her for one, but she had quit over 8 years ago and knew from past experience that she wouldn't enjoy it anyway. When Alexi point blank asked her the question, she almost dropped her mug and looked up at the woman speechless and finally mumbled a reply. "Umm, I gave it back."


"Why?" Shawn repeated the question and felt her face reddening more than it all ready was from the alcohol.

Alexi shook her head and came to her senses. "I'm sorry, if you don't want to talk about it. I didn't mean to pry."

"No, it's okay. I don't mind." Somehow Shawn didn't mind talking to the normally quiet woman. She knew that she would regret the confidence in the morning, but right now, the alcohol was making her bolder than she normally would have been.

"I guess I just didn't want to get married. It was more everyone else's dream than mine."\par "So, is it marriage in general or the guy, you didn't want?" Alexi asked curiously.

"A little of both I think." Shawn answered with a confused look on her face. "Robert is a really nice guy and a catch for some lucky woman, that woman just isn't me."

"Not your type, huh?" Alexi asked offhandedly and poured them both another refill.

Shawn laughed and nervously lifted her glass in a mock toast. "I'm beginning to wonder if I even have a type!"

"Sometimes you be surprised just who your type ends up being." Alexi replied deep in thought. When she realized what she was saying she quickly took a sip of her beer and hesitated lighting a cigarette shifting the conversation. "You don't mind do you. I'm sorry I never asked if the smoke bothered you."

"No, not at all. I use to smoke too." Shawn replied regrouping from the intense conversation she was having with a virtual stranger and thought nervously. 'I can't believe I just told her all that. I think I've had enough to drink now.'

Angel watched as Shawn pushed her hall-full glass away and decided by the way that Alexi's hand shook lighting her cigarette, it was time to take her home. 'I think they've had enough excitement for one evening.'Angel thought grinning mischievously.

It was 2 a.m. as the three of them walked out to the parking lot and Angel turned to Shawn. "I don't think you should be driving, why don't you let me give you a ride home."

Shawn shook her head and replied, "No really I'm fine."

"I think you should let me give you a lift and then tomorrow you can come back for your car. I'd don't feel comfortable letting you drive home alone." Angel insisted leading both women toward her car.

"It would be better if I just drove home so I won't have to bother someone to bring me back here tomorrow." Shawn insisted and turned toward her car.

"I'll bring you back here for your car tomorrow." Alexi spoke up leaning back against Angel's car. The fresh air had intensified the effects of the alcohol and she was slightly dizzy. "It's no problem."

Shawn turned around abruptly and stumbled. "That's it. You aren't driving anywhere!" Angel replied and went and grabbed the blonde by her arm and pulled her toward the car.

"Are you sure it won't be a problem? What about your car?"

"It's at my house. Angel gave me a ride here tonight." Alexi explained.

Angel dropped Shawn home first and the blonde leaned into the window to face the two women and asked again, "Are you sure it's not a problem."

"No, no problem at all. Call me when you get up and we can go get your car." Alexi replied resting her head back against the headrest as Angel wrote down Alexi's phone number and handed it to Shawn.

"Okay, thanks for the ride Angel." Shawn called out and turned to go up her walk.

Alexi watched as the blonde walked away and without thinking stuck her head out the window and called out to her. "Hey, maybe we could go to lunch afterwards?"

Shawn half turned and looked back at Alexi and smiled, "Sure I'd like that."

Alexi nodded and smiled and watched as the blonde went into the apartment building before laying her head back and closing her eyes. "Home James!"

Angel chuckled and pulled away from the curb shaking her head.


Alexi could hear a ringing off in the distance and it steadily grew louder as she came to full consciousness. When she realized it was the telephone, her eyes instantly flew open and she scrambled across the bed to reach it before the answering machine picked it up.

"Hello?" Alexi's voice was scratchy and dry from the night before and came out as a low whisper before she swallowed and tried again. "Hello?"

"Did I wake you?" A hesitant voice asked. Shawn was momentarily taken back by the deep velvety voice that had answered the telephone and was afraid she had the wrong number.

"Hmmm." Alexi replied closing her eyes and trying to focus her attention on the caller.

"I'm sorry. I'll just call back later." The voice replied. Alexi's eyes flew open once again when she realized who it was on the telephone.

"No, Shawn wait! I'm glad you called or I would have slept all day." Alexi replied sitting up a little too quickly and waiting for her head to stop spinning as her stomach gave a quick lurch and settled down. "What time is it?"

"Almost noon. I wasn't sure when I should call you but, did we make plans for lunch too?" Shawn asked hesitantly. She knew that Alexi had asked her, but she wanted to give the woman an out today in case it had been the alcohol talking and not Alexi last night.

"Shit...sorry. We do have plans to pick up your car and have lunch. Do you still want to?" Alexi asked. She was beginning to worry that Shawn would want to back out now.

"Yes, I do if you're still up for it." Shawn replied eagerly as a smile broke across her face.

"Sure, just give me about 45 minutes and I can pick you up." Alexi answered as she got out of bed and headed toward the kitchen. "I need directions to your house too."

Shawn gave Alexi directions and hung up and ran to the bathroom to get ready. Alexi turned the coffeepot on and went to take a shower to wake up. She had just enough time if she hustled.

Alexi walked up the front path to the apartment building and scanned the register to find Shawn's name. Nervously, she pushed the intercom button and waited. Shawn's voice barked over the speaker and Alexi stepped back quickly before responding.

"Shawn? It's me Alexi, are you ready to go?"

"Oh, Alexi one moment...just come on up." Shawn called out and instantly the buzzer sounded. Alexi quickly grabbed the doorknob and opened the door. She headed up the stairs and walked down the hallway looking for Shawn's apartment number. As she approached the door she could hear raised voices coming from within and concerned she knocked lightly on the door.

Shawn almost ran for the door in her attempt to get away from her mother. She hated to drag Alexi into the fray, but right now she needed moral support and it coming from Alexi seemed to comfort her for some reason. She opened the door quickly and reached out to pull Alexi into the apartment for fear she would bolt if she knew what was going on.

Alexi felt like she was being pulled into a lion's den when she saw the look on Shawn's face and the look on the woman standing behind her. The woman was an older version of Shawn and Alexi swallowed hard thinking, 'Oh, oh, family time. I'm gonna be eaten alive Here!' She looked nervously between the two women and then finally rested on Shawn's face.

"Is this a bad time?" She asked for lack of anything better to say.

"No, I was just telling my mother that I had plans to go out anyway." Shawn replied and turned back to her mother. "Mother this is Alexi. We work together."

"Hello." The woman said stiffly and turned to pick up her bag. "Shawn, I think we need to discuss this further as soon as possible."

"Mother, we have discussed it and I'm not going to change my mind." Shawn replied facing her mother. "It was your dream, not mine."

"Do you even know what you want?" The older woman asked trying to control her anger in front of a stranger. She didn't like the looks of this new friend. Just something about her didn't sit well with her.

"Not totally yet, but I do know that I don't want to marry Robert." Shawn sharply replied before moving to stand closer to Alexi.

Shawn's mother's eyes narrowed at the reply as she watched her daughter's demeanor. "I don't know where you've gotten this attitude all of a sudden, but it isn't flattering in the least. Maybe you need to seriously think about who you are associating with down at that new job of yours. You were never this bad before you started working down there."

Shawn's mouth dropped open at the comment and she looked out peripherally at Alexi. Alexi was at first shocked and wondered if the comment was meant for her, and when she realized it probably was, she could feel her hands clench into fists in an attempt to stay quiet.

"Mother, my attitude has nothing to do with the people I associate with, it has to do with me. I've made too many mistakes in my life already and I don't want to make anymore." Shawn tired to explain to her mother.

"I just don't understand you." Her mother replied and walked toward the door. "You are giving up a chance at marriage to a wonderful man, for what? Can you at least tell me that? Is there someone else?"

"No mother, there is no one else. I know Robert is a wonderful man, but I just don't want to be married to him or anyone else. It's not what I want out of life right now. I'm not sure exactly what I am looking for, but I just know it is not down that road." Shawn replied.

Alexi felt uncomfortable being a witness to this mother and daughter conversation, but she was proud of Shawn and how she was handling herself. She could even she Shawn's mother relenting in her approach.

"Well dear, I hope you are not making a big mistake that you will regret later on. Men like Robert don't grow on trees." The older blonde replied.

'No,they just swing from them!' Shawn thought suddenly surprised at where that comment had come from. She quickly pushed it aside and walked her mother to the door. "I'm sorry I've been a disappointment to you, but I just want something different for my life. I hope you will be able to understand and accept that."

"You are my daughter and I will always love you, even if I think you are making a big mistake." Alexi listened surprise at the turn of the conversation. She was impressed that Shawn's mother was able to feel this way. She hoped that it would take some of the stress off Shawn and make things easier for her now, especially with everything that was going on at the plant.

"Thank you mother, I love you too." Shawn kissed and hugged her mother and watched as the woman walked out the door.

"Wow! That was something." Alexi said when Shawn turned back to face her.

"Oh, it's not over yet, that was just a pause in the action. She will still try to get me to marry Robert. She's just got passed the anger phase and will move on to the guilt part, but at least I know that I'm making progress." Shawn shrugged her shoulders to relieve the tension and lightly pass off the moment.

"Okay, if you say so." Alexi replied. "Do you still want to go to lunch?"

"You bet, let me get my shoes on and find my car keys and I'll be ready to go." Shawn smiled and finished dressing before the two women left to go retrieve Shawn's car and eat.


"I'm sorry I dragged you into that back there." Shawn apologized as they sat on the patio of the restaurant waiting for their order to arrive. "I just had a sudden need for support on my side."

"Don't worry about it. Anytime you need someone in your corner, just call me and I'll be there." Alexi replied reaching across and lightly touching Shawn's hand. She pulled back as soon as warm skin touched and she realized what she was doing. Alexi kept her face neutral and looked away as her heart raced at the contact.

Shawn did everything in her power not to shiver when Alexi's hand briefly touched her own. It sent a spark of something through her chest and she watched as the tall dark woman looked away unfazed. She took a deep breath when she realized she had been holding it and thought, 'Get a grip woman before you make a fool of yourself and scare her off!'

Alexi looked back over at the blonde and noticed a strange look on her face and decided to change the subject. "Hey, did you ever figure out what happened with the SWI?"

Shawn took a sip of her Diet Coke and shook her head. "No, it was the strangest thing. It was listed under my ID, but I know for a fact, that I didn't make those changes. The Project Coordinator wasn't too thrilled with it all and I tried to explain it, but I don't think he cared why it happened, just that it did. So, I changed my password in case someone was playing around under my ID and made those changes by accident. I can't afford anything like that to happen again. I'm still on probation for this job and don't want to lose it."

"Oh, I don't think you will lose you job. I see what's been working at LA for the past five years and if they haven't fired them, I don't think you have anything to worry about." Alexi replied trying to relieve some of the stress she read in Shawn's face.

"Well, I'm not to sure about that because if the change costs us our contract with GM then, we are sunk for sure." Shawn replied glumly.

"This is true."

"I'm more worried about this upcoming MQAS Audit and how we come out of it." Shawn offered. "If things like this start showing up, we are in serous trouble for sure."

"Well, you've changed your password and fix the old SWI, has anything else happened?" Alexi was curious as to what was going on and she had her suspicions, but kept them to herself for the time being. "No, nothing since that change. It's been pretty quiet and we are getting everything in order. It's all falling into place rather nicely. Maybe that is what's scaring me!" Shawn laughed at the remark and then changed the subject. "Have you guys heard anything yet about your Union going through?"

"They are suppose to be agreeing on a package right now. Will it affect you?" Alexi was curious as to how they were going to treat non-line personnel.

"No, they consider us management and thus, we aren't unionized." Shawn explained. \par "Guess that puts us on opposite sides of the table."

"Suppose so, but don't worry about it." Alexi replied smiling, one thing at a time. If we don't pass this audit we can forget about the union anyway.

The next week started out smoothly as they geared up for their audit on Monday. Lunch break found everyone outside at the picnic tables talking and laughing. Alexi sat listening to Angel talk about her vacation plans for the upcoming holiday break and she wondered if Shawn would be joining them. Ever since the weekend, the blonde had been making it a habit to join the group during lunch and some of the breaks. Alexi found her to have quite a sense of humor and on a few occasions, she even had Mickey laughing outloud. Something made Alexi turn around and when she did she noticed the lead project boss, Pete Burns, talking to Shawn over near the big bay doors to the plant. Alexi watched and could see the tension in the conversation and as their animations got broader, she stood up and made her way toward the couple.

"Listen, I don't care how it looks, I did not change the conveyor speed estimates in the production schedule. Someone is using my ID in the system, but it isn't me!" Shawn was angry, she had her back to Alexi, but she could still see the tension in the rigidity of her shoulders.

"Well, what am I suppose to do with that? The changes are showing up under your ID. Do you think the audit team will care? All they will see is that the settings are wrong and not within ISO 9000 requirements, and we will loose our rating and our contract with GM. If that happens then none of us will have to worry anymore, because we will all be out of jobs!" Pete's voice was raised an octave as he leaned down into Shawn's face to make his point.

"Okay, then what do you suggest I do?" Shawn replied right back. "I've changed my password twice already and it doesn't seem to have any affect!"

"I can't tell you what to do, all I can tell you is that this is the second warning that is being placed in your folder. One more and you are history around here. Do you understand that?" Pete turned and walked back into the plant without waiting for a response. Shawn turned and walked around the corner to a stand of trees off in the corner near the parking lot and Alexi followed her. When Shawn stopped behind the trees, Alexi walked up and quietly laid a hand on her shoulder.

"Hey, you okay?" She asked softly not wanting to frighten the blonde. Shawn turned to Alexi and she could see the tears that tracked down her face. "Hey," Alexi whispered softly and pulled the blonde into her arms and held her until she stopped crying and pulled back.

Shawn looked up into blue eyes and answered, "I'm sorry. I'm alright now."

"No apology necessary." Alexi replied looking down into wet green eyes.

"I didn't make those changes that are showing up!" Shawn said defensively.

"I know you didn't." Alexi answered, unsure of why she believed this, but she just had a feeling that the blonde was an innocent party in all of this and thought, 'Maybe it is time someone starts taking a look around too.'

Shawn looked up into the deep blue eyes and saw that Alexi was telling the truth, she did believe her. A sudden rush of warmth effused her body and shivering she closed her eyes. Alexi felt the tremor pass through the woman in her arms and saw her eyes close in response. Alexi leaned down wanting nothing more, at that moment, than to kiss the blonde. At the last moment as their lips almost touched, Alexi diverted and pulled the blonde into a tight hug. 'Now is not the time to confuse things anymore than they already are for Shawn.'

Shawn clung to the woman confused at what she was feeling, but knew that she wasn't afraid either. It was more of a warm content feeling, she felt safe as if there were no expectations of her to react a certain way. She marveled at this new sensation. 'Why is it that I can feel so comfortable with someone I just met?'Shawn thought for a moment before she pulled back and looked up into Alexi's face and a surprising realization hit her suddenly causing her to step back self-consciously.

"I've got to get back to the office." Shawn stated bluntly. "I'm...I'm sorry for being so needy. Thank you for believing in me."

"Hey, don't worry about it Shawn. Something is going on here and I really don't think you are at fault." Alexi replied trying to collect herself. It was good thing she had stopped herself before she did anything she would regret later. Shawn wasn't interested in her that way and she would have just pushed the woman away. Something Alexi knew she did not want to happen.

Quietly, they returned to the plant. Alexi's break was over and she headed back to her station as Shawn went back into the front office to try to resolve some of the problems that had sprung up.

Shawn turned to watch Alexi walk away and felt a strange burning in her chest. Before analyzing why, she called out to the tall woman, "Hey, you want to get a late dinner tomorrow, after the shift is over?"

Alexi turned her head around slowly and as blue eyes sparked she grinned, "Sure, but it's my treat."

Laughing, Shawn nodded and replied, "Deal!", before turning to enter her office. Alexi whistled as she walked to her station and came face to face with a grinning Angel.


"Nothing!" Angel replied chuckling under her breath. She had watched the exchange with glee and tried to keep the smile off her face. Alexi just stuck her tongue out at Angel and pulled down her welder's face shield and turn to wait for the line to start. Angel let loose with a laugh and pulled her helmet on. "Yes, this are definitely looking better!"


The next day as Alexi walked through the parking lot towards the plant she heard someone calling her, turning she saw Mickey standing by his truck waving her over. She turned and headed toward him wondering what was up with him.

"Hey, what are you doing lurking in the parking lot? Waiting for some unsuspecting females?" Alexi asked chuckling.

Mickey gave her a look and replied, "Very funny. Maybe I shouldn't tell you what I heard last night if you are going to be like that!" Mickey looked around suspiciously causing Alexi to sober immediately.

"What's up?" She asked quickly.

"Well, a couple of us were at Bert's last night and Pete was there and he'd been there awhile with Dale from second shift. You know him?" Mickey paused and lit a cigarette waiting for Alexi to respond.

"Yes, I've worked with him once or twice, he's a real asshole why?" Alexi answered and began to look around as nervously as the twitchy little man next to her. She had to make a conscious effort to stop herself and looking directly at him.

"Yeah, seems like he isn't too fond of you either." Mickey grinned when he replied.

"No great loss! What does this have to do with Pete and last night?" Alexi asked prodding the man forward. He could be exasperatingly slow telling a story and, right now, she was ready to choke him.

"Nothing\'85really except that he told me that Pete was talking about your little friend last night." Mickey took a drag on his cigarette and stepped back into the shadow of his truck before looking up at Alexi.

"You mean Shawn?" Alexi asked casually.

"Yep! You two seemed to be hanging around each other a lot lately." Mickey replied fishing for a tidbit of news.

Alexi looked at him slyly and retorted, "Yeah well, I hang around with you, are you my little friend too?"

Mickey twitched nervously at the comment, but grinned and replied, "Don't you wish!"

"Only in your dreams Mickey, only in your dreams." Alexi laughed.

"Nightmares is more like it!!"

"So, what did you hear?" Alexi asked trying to shift the conversation back to where it was originally headed.

Mickey grinned at Alexi's impatience, he knew there was more than meets the eye with the tall woman. She was a standup person and a hard worker and that was all that mattered to him.

"Well, it seems your friend got hired on over his nephew and he's got this thing about a woman's place being in the home. I know that talk has it that she has been screwing up lately and I think he wants to hang her out to dry, if you ask me." Mickey concluded and looked directly at Alexi. "Better tell her to watch her back."

Mickey ground out his cigarette and walked toward the plant leaving Alexi standing deep in thought. 'That son of a bitch! It all fit, who better to sabotage her than someone who has all the pull. Shawn can't do anything without his approval which means he also has access to everyone's ID's and passwords.'\

"Damn!" Alexi muttered, she needed to find out more before she approached Shawn and she knew exactly who she would get to help her. Determined she headed toward the plant late for her shift.


"I'll see what I can find out for sure. Do you really think he is involved?" Angel hunched over the table to keep her voice low. Alexi asked Angel to meet her for breakfast before the start of their shift to see if she could solicit her help.

"After what I've heard, I'm fairly certain. Who else would have that kind of access or motive?" Alexi ran a hand through her hair in frustration. She needed proof if they were to nail Burns and keep Shawn from losing her job. "We just need to figure out how we can trip him up."

"Well, until we do, I suggest we keep our eyes and ears open for further mishaps. If he is hell-bent on destroying Shawn, he won't care who he hurts in the process." Angel replied. There were many ways of sabotaging the line, many of them resulting in direct injury to a line worker.

"Yeah, that is for sure!" Alexi agreed and leaned forward with a thought. "What if we scare him off?"

"How do you mean?"

"What if we drop hints that someone is on to his little game. He would have to back off for fear of being caught, wouldn't he?" Alexi asked, wiggling her eyebrows deviously as a smile broke over her serious face.

"It's a thought, but what if he finds out it was us?" Angel acted as the voice of reason. It was a good plan, but risky if Pete was serious about causing harm. She didn't trust the man. Pete Burns was a big, lout of a man who his opinions about women, gays and just about everything in between, and he wasn't ashamed to voice these opinions loud and clear. This was a man who placed a bumper sticker on his truck that read, 'This hunter shoots deers, queers and steers.'

"It could be a dangerous plan."

"I'll just have to take my chances." Alexi replied resolutely. She would make sure the hints were dropped around the right ears, knowing full well that the message would get back to Burns.

During break that afternoon, Alexi made sure she found herself in conversation with two other line workers who were pals of Pete Burns. She dropped the hint that she thought he was up to something with the new IE.

"What's the matter, he couldn't score with her so now he is trying to get rid of her?" Alexi asked in mock humor.

One of the men laughed and agreed with her. "You are probably right, she is kind of cute, just Pete's type, blonde and dumb, right?"

Alexi bit her tongue and replied, "That she is, but you know what they say about blonde's don't you?"

"No, what's that?"

Alexi leaned in closely and whispered a crude response causing the guys to fall out laughing as the tall raven-haired woman winked and walked back toward the line. She hated herself for having to say those things about Shawn, but she didn't know any other way to get them to take her seriously and to pass on the information to Burns.

Alexi walked up to her station where Angel was already putting on her shield and began to get ready for the start of the line.

"Did you do it?" The older woman asked.

"Yeah, I took care of it." Alexi answered disgustedly and pulled on her mask to stop any further discussions on it. She just wanted to forget the things she had said about Shawn.

The rest of the day went uneventful and at the end of her shift, Alexi headed toward the locker room to clean up for her dinner with Shawn. 'Maybe, I can make it up to her over dinner.'

Alexi came out of the locker room and ran smack into Shawn. "Whoa, sorry about that." Alexi replied and grabbed Shawn to steady her.

"Fancy running into you here." Shawn replied jokingly.

"Yes, literally!"

"Shawn!" A voice bellowed out from behind them and both women turned to see Pete Burns standing on the steps to the front office.


"I need to see you before you leave." He replied and turned back into the office.

"Please...thank you!" Alexi replied in mock politeness at his rude behavior. Shawn could tell that she was aggravated by Pete and put her hand on her arm and replied, "It's okay, just give me a minute to see what he wants."

"Yeah, sure."

"Hey, why don't you go across the street and get us a table and I'll be right over as soon as I'm finished with him." Shawn replied, she wasn't sure what was happening and didn't know if she wanted Alexi around if she was already this angry with the man.

"Alright, but if you are not over in fifteen minutes, I'm coming back and he can kiss my ass!" Alexi replied and looked down into green eyes intently to let the woman know she was serious.

"Don't worry, I will be right over. I promise!" Shawn answered and turned Alexi around toward the door and gave her a gentle nudge to get her going. Alexi laughed lightening her attitude and walked toward the door with a quick wave behind her.

Shawn smiled as she watched the tall woman leave thinking, 'That is one heck of a woman!' Sighing, she took a deep breath and turned to face the music and walked up the steps to the office.

"Is there a problem?" Shawn asked as she stepped through the office door. Pete turned around and she didn't like the smug look she saw on his face.

Pete sat back in his chair secure in the knowledge that he knew something this little bitch didn't. He put his feet up on the desk and replied, "That depends, you and she getting to be pretty chummy aren't you?"

Shawn stopped for a moment and realized that he meant Alexi and didn't know how to answer him. Finally, she just looked him in the eye and coolly answered, "We are friends, nothing more, there are no directives against that are there?"

"Just friends, huh?"

"That's right or do you have a problem with that too?" Shawn knew she should control her temper and not aggravate the man, but all she wanted to do right then was to wipe that smug look off his face.

"Some friend you got there, I heard she thinks you are a dumb blonde and are screwing everything up around here." Pete replied laughing when he saw the girl's face begin to flush.

"Well, you shouldn't believe everything you hear." Shawn replied quietly. She wasn't sure if she should believe him, but in the back of her mind the nagging doubt was there. She had seen Alexi at break talking and laughing with two of Pete's friends and couldn't help but wonder. 'Could she have been pretending all this time while talking behind my back?' She didn't want to believe this of Alexi, but what did she really know about the woman.

"Ha! You know Fred and Jeff, she was just telling them today a cute story about you." Pete took great pleasure in retelling the joke that the guys had relayed to him, of course, he couldn't help but embellish on the good parts."

Shawn stood silently listening to his words and didn't know if she should cry or be angry. She stood mutely until he was finished and just stared out over his right shoulder at a smudge on the wall.

"I guess you had better rethink who your friends are. You really don't have any around here." Pete concluded and dropped his feet to the floor and stood up.

Shawn looked from the spot on the wall to the man before her and replied, "Bite me!" and turned and walked out the door.

"Excuse me?" Shawn heard Pete sputter from behind her and just kept walking out of the plant and headed toward her dinner date across the street. As she walked she could feel the anger boiling within her. The voice of reason that told her to give Alexi a chance to explain had long been buried by the time she reached the restaurant. She flung open the door and walked in looking for the woman in question. The room was filling up and she spotted Alexi in a back booth watching the television screen over the bar. She moved past the line waiting and headed toward the booth, her fists clenched at her side.

Alexi looked up to find Shawn standing next to the booth, she smiled until she saw the look on the woman's face and instantly felt a cold stab of pain cut through her.

"What's wrong? What happened?"

Shawn stood silently staring intently into blue eyes that looked so deceptively sincere and answered, "I can't believe what you said about me earlier to those guys. I thought you were different and really believed me." Shawn reached down and picked up the glass of water on the table and threw it at the blue eyes she was beginning to hate. "If you think I am nothing more than a hot bit of fluff that is only good for one thing, then maybe that will cool you off!"

Alexi sputtered surprised at the cold water and the anger she saw in Shawn's face. She cringed when she realized that her plan had backfired and tried to take a deep breath as the ice cubes slid beneath her shirt down her chest.

Before Alexi could respond, Shawn leaned in close to the startled, dripping face and added, "And now, you don't have a prayers chance of finding out either!!" With those parting words, Shawn turned and stormed back out of the restaurant, leaving Alexi wet and speechless with a startled thought on her mind, 'You mean I did have a chance?'

"Shit!" Alexi scrambled to get out of the booth and go after Shawn. She didn't mind the stares she received because of her dripping shirtfront, most of the patrons had been too far away to see what had actually happened. Alexi pushed her way past the people waiting for tables and went out into the early evening. She looked around and couldn't find Shawn until she saw her car speed out of the plant lot and head down the street.

"Damn!" Alexi shouted and went to get her car. She drove over to Shawn's house and waited, but when the woman hadn't returned home by 1 am, Alexi left sadly and returned home.

Driving home, Alexi hated herself. She knew how Shawn was felling. After two failed relationships because of infidelity and deception, she knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of what just happened. Even though she hadn't meant for things to turn out the way they did, they had and Shawn had gotten hurt. She knew that hurt from personal experience and she felt the tears burn behind her eyes.

"How could I have been so stupid as to think that plan would work. Why didn't I see the consequences. Me, of all people, should no better!" Alexi berated herself all the way home and as soon as she walked into her apartment, she picked up the telephone and called Shawn and only got her answering machine. She called throughout the rest of the evening left numerous messages trying to apologize and asking Shawn to let her explain why she did what she did. Over the progress of the weekend, Alexi stopped by Shawn's apartment and called her numerous time, if Shawn was home, she didn't pick up the phone or answer the door, and Alexi hoped wherever Shawn was, she was safe.

Late Sunday night, Alexi made one more trip to Shawn's apartment, a tenant was coming out and she slipped into the building and knocked on the blonde's door. Still there was no answer and she stood there for a moment before pulling an envelope from her pocket and slipping it under the door. She had tried to explain what had happened on the telephone in numerous messages and this time she had just written what her heart was feeling.

Somewhere in the night where fantasies take flight.

I see your face and my agony grows.

My heart knows that I am troubled.

Already I cannot stop myself and it shows.

Promises of never going so far again,

All but die upon the rising of mornings sun.

A thousand days, a thousand nights,

Without feeling, without realizing that

There is nowhere for this heart to run.

Another soul lost, another closed door.

A life once lived without meaning,

A life, once again, learning how to soar.

My heart always knew the way,

That my mind could not follow;

To keep to the path which has been set.

To listen to my heart, and know what to say.

You came from out of a dream,

To make me understand;

I must chose to live again.

For this is all that I am.



Monday morning, red-eyed and exhausted from lack of sleep Alexi made her way into the plant and headed right for the office to find Shawn. As she neared the steps, Pete came out of the office and descended right in front of her.

"What do you want? Shouldn't you be out on the line?" Pete asked her briskly. He had no use for her type anywhere near him and thought, 'If she didn't try so hard to be like a man, she wouldn't be half bad looking.'

"I'm looking for Shawn." Alexi replied coolly looking the shorter man right in the eye.

"Well, she isn't in the office right now. She is out on the floor somewhere. I suggest you spend your time doing you job and letting her do her's. Today we have our audit and I don't want anyone screwing it up! Do you understand? Because if they do, they are out of here, no questions asked!!" Pete turned and walked away leaving the woman clenching her fists tightly at her side in an effort not to slam them into the man's face.

Alexi turned and walked down the line looking for Shawn and not finding her, finally running out of time she saw Angel frantically waving her down and headed over to her friend.

"What the hell are you doing? They moved our station today and I hate working near the robots! Hurry up! The line is going to start any minute. You had better get your butt in gear, they are watching us today!" Angel replied and handed her friend her gear. She could see how bad Alexi looked this morning and knew something wasn't right, but it would have to wait for break time. Neither one of them could afford to lose their jobs right now.

"Come on get you butt in gear, we will talk about this later." Angel replied and tossed Alexi's welding helmet to her. The line started up and Alexi threw herself into her work and pushed her body as far as could whether it was in punishment or in an effort to push back the pain, she didn't care, she just didn't want to feel anything at that moment.

Shawn found a quiet little niche in the back of the plant and set down to try to sort through her paperwork. She couldn't stand being cooped up in the office with Pete and his smug attitude. If she stayed there one more minute, she was sure that she would do something, something he deserved, but something she would regret later. Instead she walked out onto the floor and realized that Alexi would be showing up soon and couldn't face that either and headed off to find a quiet hiding place to work. The pain was still burning in her chest from Alexi's betrayal. When she had finally gotten home this morning, she stopped the listening to the messages on her machine as soon as she heard Alexi's deep voice. She had spent the weekend at her brothers and had not given them a reason and no one had asked. They had just assumed it was because she was upset about Richard and the wedding. She enjoyed spending time with her nephews all weekend, but couldn't get Alexi out of her mind. 'Why did she have to do that?' She kept asking herself this question over and over all weekend and was no closer to answer today. She felt a tear trickle down her cheek and reached into her pocket for a tissue and felt the envelope remembering that she had pulled it off the door when leaving and stuffed it into her pocket. Pulling the crumpled envelope from her pocket she opened it and began to read it. Her mouth dropped open and the words, but before she could finish warning bells sounded and the lines went silent. The only sound was the sound of the warning siren and shouting. Shawn quickly headed down the line to see what had happened. Nearing the line she saw a familiar form lying on the ground covered in blood. Her heart shuddered once and began to race as she ran toward Alexi.

Angel had seen the trouble coming, but couldn't warn Alexis in time as the robot jumped track and sent the rivet gun off track and firing the projectiles in every direction. Alexi felt a slamming pain to her side and her head before she fell to the ground unconscious. Angel ran for the panic button and slammed it silencing the line and setting off the warning bells. She ran to her friend's side and turned her over only to pull her hand back covered in blood. Angel looked up in panic and began screaming for help.

Shawn tried to push through the crowd that was forming only to run into Pete and the members of the Audit team. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to face him.

"Are you satisfied now? Your incompetence and mistakes have just cost someone their life. You are fired, go clear out your locker and wait for the us and the police in my office!" Pete bellowed. Everyone turned and looked at Shawn, their faces a mix of anger and shock.

"But, I didn't..." Shawn began and once again tried to pull free to get to Alexi's side.

"Haven't you done enough!" Pete spat at her and pushed her away. Shawn looked up at the wary looks on the faces of the audit team before turning and stiffly walking back down the walkway. She had to use every ounce of strength she had to force herself to turn and walk away from Alexi.


Shawn sat in the locker room with her head in her hands until she heard the outer door open. She didn't move because she didn't want to face whoever was there. Shawn felt someone sit next to her and then an arm reach around to hug her and another tug down on her hands that shielded her face. Shawn looked into Angel's warm brown eyes as the tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

"I didn't do it" Shawn's voice was hoarse and raw with emotion.

"I know you didn't honey." Angel softly replied and pulled the girl into her arms and let her cry and continued to whisper reassuringly into her ear.

"Don't worry Alexi is going to be alright. Trust me she will be back to work by the end of the week."

"But all that blood." Shawn replied and looked up hopefully into Angel's eyes.

"Head wounds bleed a lot. The rivet gun fell and caught the side of her head and gashed her side. A couple of stitches and she will be as good as new. Nothing can keep her down." Angel replied smiling. "They took her to the hospital and I'm going to head over in a minute. I thought I would see if you wanted to come with me."

"What happened?"

"I'm not sure, one minute we were working and the next the robot is coming down past the track into Alexi." Angel replied and stood up pulling the small blonde with her. "Clean up your face and we will go see about Alexi."

Shawn nodded and walked over to the sink to wash her face. Angel stood back in thought before remarking, "What I don't understand is what Alexi was doing over the frame like she was? There was no reason for her to be so near the track. I guess it is a good thing or she would have been hurt worse. A few inches and it would have hit her directly instead of glancing off the frame like it did."

Shawn looked up at the women with a questioning expression and Angel nodded, "Yeah, I'm thinking the same thing. We won't know until we talk to her now will we."

Shawn followed Angel to the door and paused. "What about the auditors. I'm suppose to meet with them and Pete."

"The hell with them, they will be here when we get back." Angel replied sharply. "The line is going to be down for awhile so, let's just go get Alexi!"

"Sounds good to me." Shawn answered and the two women walked outside past the milling workers and headed toward the parking lot. Shawn didn't look up at the workers and knew that they were watching her. Angel put her arm on Shawn's elbow and guided her along.

The two women paused when a voice rang out, "Shawn! Tell Alexi we are thinking about her!" They looked up to see Mickey waving at them and nodded in reply before continuing. Shawn breathed a sigh of relief and secretly Angel did too. She knew what could happen, if the workers decided that Shawn was guilty. They needed to keep the consensus on their side or the trail of information would soon dry up.


Alexi awoke to a killer headache lying alone in the emergency room. Confused she tried to sit up only to find an equally killer pain in her side.

"Damn!" she spoke out grabbing her side.

"Figures! First word out of her mouth and she has to cuss."

Alexi looked up to see Angel and Shawn step into the curtain area. Shawn's face was pale, her smile looked forced and Alexi could probably figure out why.

Angel stopped and looked down at Alexi and pronounced, "You'll survive!"

"Gee, thanks Doc! I love you too." Alexi replied sarcastically.

"No problem, we came to take you home as soon as they spring you from this country club." The older woman answered and pulled Shawn around from behind her to stand next to the bed. "I'll just go see what's holding up the paperwork." She turned to Shawn and said, "You make sure she doesn't get out of that bed until I get back."

Shawn nodded her head and looked at her with fear. Angel patted her shoulder and whispered in her ear. "Don't worry she doesn't bite...hard." Chuckling out loud, she turned and left the two women alone.

Shawn nervously continued to watch the curtain where Angel had exited. She didn't look down at Alexi until she felt something brush her hand on the bed rail.


Shawn looked down into blue eyes and waited for the rebuke she feared would be forthcoming.

"I'm sorry." Alexi's reply took Shawn by surprise.

"For what? You were the one who was hurt."

"No, for what happened earlier. I only said those things to try to get Pete to react. I guess I got his attention, huh?" Alexi replied, her grin turning to a grimace.\par "Then you don't blame me for what happened?" Shawn asked unsure of herself again.\par "Not in the least. I know what he did and I know how he did it. Now, I just have to prove that it was Pete!" Alexi replied. "I just feel like shit that I had to say hurtful things to force the issue with him. You know that I didn't mean a thing I said, don't you?"\par Shawn closed her eyes and took a deep breath, 'Yes!' before looking back down into the blue eyes that she had come to need. "I do now."

"Good. I went nuts trying to reach you this weekend to tell you about it, but you disappeared."

"I went to my brother's to think." Shawn explained and boldly took the chance and said, "By the way, that poem really hit home."

"Oh yeah." Alexi replied and began to blush. "It was nothing, just some ramblings from a sleep depraved mind."

"Well, it was something to me." Shawn softly responded.

Alexi looked up, her heart skipping a beat at what she saw reflected in the green eyes above. "Yeah?"



Shawn laughed at the simplicity of their conversation and looked intently at Alexi. "So, how do you really feel?"

"Like I've been hit in the head with a baseball bat." Alexi replied wincing. "Do you think you can help me sit up?"

"Okay, but you have to stay in the bed." Shawn replied and moved to put the rail down so that she could help Alexi get up.

"Yeah, whatever." Alexi replied, knowing full well that she would do whatever she wanted to once she had the chance.

Shawn sat on the edge of the bed to give support to Alexi and to keep her from moving any farther. When tall woman was able to slowly sit up, Shawn reached over for the remote to the bed and raised the bed so that she could sit back comfortably. As the bed slowly raised, Alexi was moved closer to Shawn until they were almost touching. Shawn looked up at the raven-haired woman and went to move back when Alexi reached out and put her arms around Shawn in silent request for her to stay close. Shawn's body over-rode her mind and she moved closer to Alexi and when she looked up, their lips briefly touched. Shawn's moan was all Alexi needed and she leaned down and deepened the kiss. Shawn gave in to the sensation of the kiss as their tongues danced in a hesitant first meeting. After what seemed like hours they broke apart, each taking a deep breath to settle their shaking bodies.

"Are you okay?" Alexi asked softly.

"I think I'm better than okay." Shawn replied with a silly grin on her face.

"I didn't overstep my bounds did I?" Alexi asked concerned that she may be adding too much stress to Shawn's already overloaded senses.

"No, I don't think you ever could." Shawn simply replied. Further conversation was interrupted as Angel popped back into the curtained area.

"You two okay? The doctor is signing your release papers as we speak. Here are a pair of scrubs I borrowed for you." Angel smiled devilishly and tossed the garments to Alexi. "Your clothing is a bit messy right now." Angel grinned at the flushed look on the women's faces and knew that more than talking had been going on while she was gone. 'Good, because they are going to need each other and have to trust each other to get through the next few days at the plant.'


Angel dropped Alexi off at her apartment much to her displeasure before taking Shawn back to the plant.

"I don't want her to be alone." Alexi whispered to Angel as she walked her up to her apartment.

"Don't worry, she won't be. I'll keep an eye on her." Angel promised and left Alexi with strict instructions to rest per doctors orders. Alexi agreed provided Angel call her later and tell her what was happening. After Angel left, Alexi felt shaky and lay down, and was soon asleep.

Angel and Shawn walked back into the quiet plant, the shift had been let go early when the line was shut down for the night. They walked up to the front office and entered to find Pete and the audit team finishing up for the evening.

"Where did you disappear to?" Pete demanded as soon as he saw Shawn and then turned to Angel, "Your shift is over, go home."

Angel stood defiantly looking at the supervisor when Shawn spoke up. "We went to the hospital with Alexi and then gave her a ride home."

"Well wasn't that sweet of you." Pete replied sarcastically. "Go clean out your locker you are through here."

"Why, I didn't do anything!" Shawn replied defensively.

One of the audit team members took that opportunity to speak up. "We went over the SWIs and they show that you authorized another tack to be added to the sequence, which according to our investigation was the cause of the malfunction."

"What tack?" Shawn asked incredulously. "I haven't altered an SWI in over a week!"

"Right here." The man replied and drew her attention to the papers scattered on the desk in front of him. Shawn immediately went over to take a look.

"This was done last night at 8 p.m. I wasn't even here then." Shawn remarked pointing to the security log on the SWI.

"What proof do we have that you didn't come in?" Pete asked disbelievingly.

Shawn looked up at him and spat, "I was at home last night, not in the plant!"

The auditors turned to look at Shawn and the spokesman asked, "You have access from your home computer to the plant system, am I correct?"

"Yes, but you can get the telephone records and see that I wasn't even on-line last night!" Shawn thought brightening at that thought.

"Doesn't mean you didn't stop in here or log on from another place." Pete answered smugly.

"You've had it out for me, since my first day and nothing I say is going to change your mind. But, just so it's on the record, I did not alter the SWI this time, nor the last time it happened." Shawn replied pulling open the drawer to her desk to remove her personal things.

"This has happened before?" The auditor asked? "How come we were not made aware of this fact?"

"It was just her word, I could find no proof that anyone else had tampered with the system." Pete answered firmly.

"We should have been made aware of this situation earlier. I have serious reservations about placing the blame on one person and closing issue." The auditor concluded and closed his briefcase. "I think we should just put things on hold until my associates and I look into this further." He turned to Shawn and added, "I suggest you stay around and make yourself available for any further questions that may arise."

Shawn nodded her head and dropped her things back into the desk. She took a quick sideways glance at Pete and saw that he was not happy at all. "If he was bad before, this is just going to make him worse. What fun! I love my job, I love my job!' >/i>She kept repeating the later more out of sarcasm that any affirming mantra.

The auditors left the office and silence remained in its place until Pete turned to Shawn. "Don't think that this is over by any stretch of the imagination. You don't belong here. Why don't you go find yourself a nice husband and do what women are suppose to do and leave the jobs to the men who need to support their families!"

"Excuse me, but I believe what I'm hearing is sexual harassment." Angel who had previously been forgotten about piped up from her perch against the rear wall. She stood smiling with her arms folded across her chest in a challenging stance.

Pete turned, his face crimson with anger and began pointing his finger at the older woman. "You, if I were you I would keep my mouth shut. Walking off the line without permission is grounds for termination around here. Maybe I should have a talk with the shift supervisor."

"Go ahead and he will tell you that if the line is stopped permanently for the night, we are free to punch out." Angel replied walking toward the office door. "And I did that before I left." Angel could see that Pete's jaw was clenched and he was doing all he could to contain his anger. 'Time to get out of here, I think.'

"Then if you are not on the clock right now, I suggest you get out of here!" Pete's knuckles were white in his clenched fists.

Angel stopped by the desk and tugged Shawn with her toward the door, at the door she turned and saluted Pete replying, "Yes, Sir!" Shawn quickly opened the office door and pulled Angel out with her, both women ran down the stairs giggling as they heard a chair being violently upended in the office behind them. "Let's get out of here!" Shawn replied as she pulled Angel toward the exit.


The week went by relatively uneventful as the auditors and safety teams investigated the accident. Alexi's absence was missed on the line but, more so by Angel and Shawn. Angel had the opportunity to drop by during the week to check on her friend, but Shawn had to be content with calling her. She was putting in long hours with the investigation and getting everything on target with the audit. By Friday, Alexi showed up for her shift and the final report on the accident was released. It read that it was an accident of unknown origin. Alexi knew differently, she had seen the tack embedded in the frame that had caused the equipment to come loose, and knew it was no accident. She also knew that had she not been looking down when she did, she would have been hurt worse. Whoever was behind this, wasn't playing games anymore.

"Hey, what are you doing here today. I thought you didn't see the doctor until next week?" Angel had been surprised to see Alexi at their workstation. She knew that she hadn't gotten medical clearance yet and wasn't suppose to be driving, let alone back to work.

"The doctor said it was alright as long as I take it easy. You know I can't stand to just sit around all day. I was going nuts!" Alexi replied as she began to pull on her welding sleeves. It was already warm and humid in the plant and would only get worse as her shift progressed. The sleeves were a hot nuisance, but they kept her arms from getting burned by the welding splatter.

"What are we going to do with you Alexi. You can't sit still and relax for two seconds can you?"

"Nope." Alexi simply answered and pulled down on her face shield as the lights and bells on the line went off. Angel couldn't see the smile on Alexi's face, but she knew it was there as her friend fired up her torch and went to work.

Lunchtime rolled around and everyone was given an extra few minutes due to the heat in the factory. Alexi felt slightly nauseous and was drenched in sweat as she made her way toward her car to lie down for a bit. Her head was beginning to pound and she wasn't hungry. She just wanted to rest before going back on the line. Leaning the bucket seat back she could just see out over the steering wheel. She lay there thinking until movement out of the corner of her eye got her attention. She turned her head to watch Pete walking a row over between the cars. 'Good, maybe he's going home. Goodnight jerkface!' She thought to herself and closed her eyes to relax. Alexi didn't think she had been resting that long when she felt her car jerk as it was tapped from behind. "What the hell?" Turning she looked out the mirror to see Pete's truck pull away.

"Damn you!" She exploded and got out of the car to see if there was any damage. Checking her car over, she didn't see any and moved to walk back to the plant. Everyone was gone from the picnic tables out back and she looked at her watch and realized that fifteen minutes had passed. She hadn't thought she had fallen asleep, but she must have. Forgetting about Pete, she hurried into the plant to get back on the line.

"Where did you disappear to, I was beginning to get worried?" Angel asked when Alexi appeared in their workstation.

"I went to lay down in the car and must have fallen asleep." Alexi replied, quickly pulling on her gear and the line began to restart.

"Are you okay?" Angel shouted over the din. Alexi just nodded her head and pulled down on her face shield. She wasn't feeling any better than she had earlier and just hoped that the rest of the evening would go by quickly.

Angel watched her friend closely. She hadn't liked how pale the normally dark woman was looking, and decided to keep an eye on her. It was probably just from the heat, it was like working in an oven tonight.

Alexi could see the sweat sizzle as it dropped on the hot metal. She paused for a moment to catch her breath, but it felt like she just took in a lung full of hot weld smoke. She tried closing her eyes, but her head spun and she lost her balance and slammed into the side of the frame causing instant pain to her already bruised hip. "Damn!" She muttered and stepped back to lift her face shield. It was almost break time, but she didn't think she could last another two minutes. She needed air now, turning she came face to face with Angel who had sensed that something was wrong.

"I need some fresh air, now!" Alexi called out and pulled off her mask and hurried down the line toward the doors. Angel paused for a moment before stepping out of her work area, holding up the line. She saw Shawn coming down the steps from the office and motioned toward the Alexi as the woman headed to the bay doors. Shawn looked at Alexi's jerky movements and back at Angel nodding. She ran down the remainder of the stairs and out the door after the tall woman.

Alexi took a deep breath of the somewhat cooler night air. It was still rather humid, but the air was definitely cooler and fresher outside. She leaned against the short retaining wall and tried to steady herself as a wave of dizziness washed over her. 'Damn, I should have eaten something.' She thought in regret. Arms circled her from behind and pulled her down to sit at the end of the bench next to the wall.

"Hey, you okay?" A soft familiar voice. Shawn straddled the bench and pulled the tall body back against her in support.

"Yeah, just got overheated for a moment." Alexi replied half-truthfully.

"Un-huh, same thing that made you take a nap in the car at lunch time too?"

"Uh..well" Alexi stammered in reply.

"I'll be you haven't eaten anything either?" Shawn asked more as a statement than a question.

"No, I wasn't really hungry. I'll be fine after break. It so stinking hot in there." Alexi replied trying to shift the focus of the conversation.

"Oh, I don't think so!"

"What?" Alexi asked pulling herself up to turn around and look at the blonde behind her.

"You don't really think you are going back in there after break. You are through for the night." Shawn replied looking past the blue eyes that bore into her and watched for Angel as she appeared coming out for break. She motioned for her and turned back into the blue eyes that peered at her intently.

"That's not going to work, you know." Shawn replied grinning as her heart raced a bit faster.

"What's that?" Alexi replied steadily.


"None needed. I'm going back in after break that's all." Alexi answered with a grin of her own.

"Like hell you are!" Angel cussed from behind causing Alexi to look up quickly surprised. She knew Angel never even used the lightest of swear words.

"Oh great! Now you're going to leap on the bandwagon too?" Alexi asked standing up. She wavered for a moment before catching herself and using her full height to tower over the two shorter women.

Angel stood toe to toe with Alexi and looking up at her in challenge. "You want me to bring you back down to size little girl?"

Shawn watched the exchange with concern until she saw Alexi's face begin to break out into a smile followed by laughter from both women.

"Oh, you're so tough Angel!" Alexi replied.

"You got it! I think Shawn is right. You need a good meal and some rest and I think you should take her up on her offer of dinner and a ride home!" Angel replied looking over at a completely startled blonde.

"My offer?" Shawn asked embarrassed.

Alexi looked between the two women and began laughing again, "Okay! Okay! I give up! Dinner and home it is."

Shawn just shook her head realizing that she didn't mind the idea at all and smiled replying, "Okay, then lets get going."

The three walked to Shawn's car and she unlocked Alexi's door before walking around to the other side, and noticed a trickle of red fluid running from under the car. Shawn bent down on one knee and saw a larger puddle of it under her car. "What the hell is this now?"

"What?" Angel asked moving toward Shawn. Shawn pointed down to the red puddle under her car. Angel bent down and took a closer look before straightening up and looking around. Spotting Mickey standing near his car, she motioned for him to come over.

"Hey Mickey, is this what I think it is?" Angel asked him. He squatted down and ran his finger through the fluid. "Depends if you were thinking about brake fluid." Mickey replied and got down on his hands and knees to get a closer look under the car.

Curious, Alexi got out of the car and walked around to where everyone was congregating. "What's going on?"

"Looks like I'm leaking brake fluid." Shawn replied disgustedly. 'Just what I need car troubles on top of everything else.'

Mickey scooted under the car, trying to avoid the puddle and poked around for a moment before sliding back out. "Nope, not a leak."

"Then what is it?" Angel asked. "Is it not from her car?"

"I didn't say it wasn't from this car." Mickey slowly replied. The women were quickly getting exasperated with him and glared without commenting. "Hey, all I'm saying is that it's not a leak, looks more like a cut in the line."

"How can that happen? Did I run something over?" Shawn asked confused.

"Well, I suppose that could happen, but I'd bet it was done deliberately." Mickey replied wiping his hands on his uniform.

Alexi's head shot up quickly at Mickey's comment causing everyone to turn towards her. "What?" Angel asked quickly.

Alexi didn't want to say anything in front of Mickey for fear word would spread out.

"Just curious at why someone would deliberately do that." Alexi replied trying to keep her face masked.

"Don't know, but I can tell you that you aren't going to be able to drive this car until it's fixed." Mickey smiled and moved back toward the plant. "Well, breaks over, better get back to the line."

"I'll be right in." Angel replied and the three women watched the small man walk away. As soon as he was out of earshot, Angel turned to Alexi. "Okay, spill it!"

"I didn't want to say this in front of Mickey, but earlier, when I was resting in the car. I saw Pete go by between these cars and then he left. What puzzled me then, and now, I understand was that I fell asleep for fifteen minutes and it shouldn't have taken him that long to work from here to his truck. Unless..." Alexi let the comment drifted off knowing that both women were thinking the same thing.

"That's it! I've got to do something about him anyone else gets hurt!" Shawn exploded and began to pace back and forth.

"How? We have no proof. Alexi didn't actually see him do anything!" Angel replied, trying to add reason to the angry mood.

"No, not yet. But, I think we can come up with something to nail him on." Alexi replied pausing in thought. Shawn pulled her cell phone out of her bag and dialed AAA, the car wasn't going anywhere on it's own.

Angel went back in to finish what was left of the shift while Alexi and Shawn waited for the tow truck, and then the three women drove to Shawn's apartment where they ordered pizza and began to discuss a plan to trap Pete. Fatigue soon caught up with Alexi and she moved to lie down on the sofa.

"Well, I guess I had better be going. I can drop Alexi off at her place on my way home." Both women turned to find Alexi sound asleep.

"Why don't you just leave her here, she probably won't sleep if we wake her up now." Shawn replied. "She has her car here anyway."

"Okay. Might be a good idea to make sure she stays put and gets some rest." Angel replied. "Call me tomorrow if you need any help or anything."

"Okay, thanks for coming over. It was fun, even if the circumstances weren't." Shawn offered as she walked Angel to the door.

"Don't worry we will get him." Angel replied seriously and then a mischievous grin spread across her face and she nodded toward the woman on the sofa. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Shawn flushed and opened her mouth to speak and then clamped it shut. She really didn't know what to say. Angel chuckled and turned walking down the hall and out the door. Shawn closed the door and locked it before moving to the woman on the sofa. Sighing she looked down at the beautiful woman and wondered what she was going to do about her. Shaking her head, she moved to find get a blanket for Alexi thinking, 'If my family didn't understand before, this should clinch it for them.'She didn't know how to explain it, but that one kiss told her more about herself than any therapy ever would.

"Now, what do I do about you?" Shawn whispered softly as she draped the blanket over the sleeping woman.


Alexi woke in the middle of the night disoriented and looked around the darkened living room until she remembered. Pushing back the blanket she got up and picked her way down the hall by the moonlight that illuminated the apartment. As she neared the end of the hall, a nightlight shown the way to the bathroom, but Alexi paused as she passed the bedroom and looked in at the figure sleeping in the bed. Shawn's honey hair spread out on the pillow shown in the moonlight that streamed through the window next to the bed. She could see the gentle rise and fall of the woman's chest and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed next to her and run her fingers through the soft tresses. Sighing, she turned and moved on to the bathroom. Turning on the light she squinted in its brightness and looked at herself in the mirror. The cut on her forehead was beginning to itch but looked like it was healing nicely. She washed her hands and face and closed the light giving her eyes a moment to adjust before trying to walk back toward the living room. As she passed the bedroom she heard the rustle of covers and a sleepy voice call out.

"Alexi? Are you okay?"

Alexi popped her head in the doorway as Shawn rolled over to face Alexi. "I'm fine, go back to sleep." Alexi whispered. Her voice sounded loud in the quiet room.

"Are you sure?" Shawn rubbed her eyes to see better in the half-light. She thought she had heard movement earlierbut wasn't sure until she heard the water running in the bathroom. She was a light sleeper and anything out of the ordinary, usually awoke her.

"Yes, I'm sure." Alexi turned to move back toward the living room so that Shawn would go back to sleep.

"Wait! That couch can't be comfortable for you to stretch out...why don't you sleep in here, there is plenty of room for both of us." Shawn asked hesitantly. She wasn't sure what she expected Alexi's reaction to be, but she hoped it was yes. She didn't hear a reply from the raven-haired woman and feared that she had gone to far, until she felt the bed shift and a presence behind her. Shawn remained completely still until her breath caught in her chest when she felt arms wrap around her waist and pull her back to rest against Alexi.

"Thank you, now go back to sleep." A low voice murmured near her ear. Shawn felt a tingle rush through her body causing her to shiver. She willed herself to breath deeply and relax. It was warm and secure in Alexi's arms and soon she was fast asleep.

This reaction did not go unnoticed by the raven-haired woman and she smiled in response and held the blonde closely until she felt her breathing even out and soon Alexi's heartbeat matched the rhythm and she was asleep.


Shawn laid in bed half asleep with Alexi's arms still holding her and wondered what had awaken her. She hadn't heard anything until the sound of a gasp from the hallway. Shawn's eyes flew open to see Robert standing in the doorway with a look of shock and anger on his face. She quickly raised her hand for him to keep quiet and slipped out from under Alexi's arm. Stepping into the hallway she pushed Robert ahead of her back to the living room.

"What the hell is going on here? Who is that?" Robert asked loudly and he was pushed backwards unwillingly.

"Shhh! Let's talk in the other room." Shawn whispered hoarsely, kicking herself for not remembering he still had a key to the apartment.

"Well?" Robert stood in the middle of the living room demanding answers and Shawn sighed and ran a hand through her ruffled hair. This wasn't how she imagined waking up in Alexi's arms for the first time.

"What are you doing here?" Shawn replied in defense. "Did you ever hear of knocking?"

"I never had to before." Robert replied defensively.

"Things were different before. I'd like my key back." Shawn replied quietly and held out her hand. Robert looked from the blonde's face to her hand and back again before removing the key from his ring and tossing it to her.

"She's the reason you called of the wedding isn't it?" He asked as he walked toward the outer door.

"No. It isn't what you think." Shawn explained thinking, 'but it could, be given a chance.'

"Your mother was right, you've changed since you took that job. I don't even know you anymore." Robert replied and walked out the apartment door for the last time.

"I don't even know myself anymore." Shawn whispered quietly staring back at the closed door. She wasn't sure if that actually worried her or made her feel hopeful.

Alexi had felt the warmth removed from the bed and didn't move until she heard an angry male voice and quickly got up and went to the bedroom door to listen. She didn't really want to eavesdrop, but she wanted to make sure Shawn was safe. She didn't recognize the voice and continued listening to the conversation until she heard the front door slam.

Walking quietly down the hallway to the living room she just caught the whispered reply from Shawn and stopped within arms reach and whispered, "Is that a bad thing?"

Shawn turned to face Alexi and looked up into the questioning blue eyes and knew her answer. "No, it's not."

Alexi hesitantly pulled Shawn into her arms and when the younger woman's arms wrapped around her tightly, she sighed and pulled her closer. They stood in one another's arms, neither one wanting to move or to say anything, but just enjoy the moment they shared.

The sound of the telephone broke their commune and Shawn looked up at Alexi knowingly. "My mother, how much do you want to bet?"

"I have a feeling I would lose." Alexi replied quietly. Shawn nodded and moved from the warmth of Alexi's embrace and went to answer the phone.

"Hello?" Shawn instantly pulled the phone away from her ear and Alexi could hear a raised voice coming over the line. She wanted to go to Shawn and pull the phone away from her and hang it up, but she knew that the blonde needed to handle the situation.

"No Mother! It wasn't like that." Shawn interjected before another barrage came at her from the other end. "What? He had no right just to walk into my apartment without knocking!"

Alexi could see the tension building in the short woman's shoulders and stood by helplessly as her anger heightened.

"No mother, you fail to remember that we are no longer engaged and he has no rights where I am concerned!" Shawn couldn't believe what she was hearing from her mother. First, she didn't believe a word she was saying and then to act as if the wedding were still on and that she was somehow cheating on Robert.

"Mother, listen! We've had this conversation before and my position hasn't changed, it's over! You are going to just have to deal with that fact!" Shawn replied angrily and tried to calm down. She hated that she would let her mother get to her like this.

"No mother, the discussion is over. No, don't....Mother? Mother? Damn!" Shawn slammed down the receiver and instantly felt arms wrap around her. She turned to face Alexi and rested her head in the crook of the taller woman's neck.

"You okay?" Alexi asked softly. Shawn could feel the rumble of the words in Alexi's chest and hugged her tighter before pulling back to look up.

"She's on her way over here. I'm sorry." Shawn replied blinking to keep the tears at bay.

Alexi leaned down and kissed the trembling lips and felt them respond to her. The kiss was passionate and full of unspoken promise. Breaking apart, the two women stood hugging one another until Alexi asked, "Do you want me to leave? I'd rather stay with you."

"I would rather you stay too, but I think I need to handle this one on my own. I don't want to drag you into all this right now." Shawn replied sadly and looked down at Alexi's T-shirt, unable to look into the blue eyes right now.

Alexi tilted Shawn's face towards her and lightly kissed her lips. "Don't worry, I'm here for you and if you need me, call and I'll be right back over. Okay?"

Shawn nodded and reached up to pull Alexi's face back toward her and kissed her hard and deeply. Alexi responded without a moment's hesitation or doubt. They continued kissing until Shawn pulled back and looked at the clock. "She will be here any moment." Shawn's voice was sad and apologetic.

"Okay, call me if you need me or as soon as she leaves and I'll come right back over." Alexi replied and gathered up her things. She kissed Shawn one last time before slipping out the door. Alexi sat in her car for another five minutes until she saw a black car fly into the parking lot and the woman from the other day came out and hurried into the apartment building.

'Shawn needs to do something about that key situation.'<\i> Alexi thought and picked up her cell phone, making a call, she transferred her home calls to her cell phone and sat back to wait.

Shawn heard her mother before she saw her and exclaimed. "Damn!" She didn't turn and continued making coffee in the kitchen. Her mother threw her keys on the counter top and demanded, "Okay, now what is going on around here? Is she still here?"

"No, she left and there is nothing going on here. It got late last night and she stayed over, end of story." Shawn replied and didn\rquote t turn to look at her mother.

"That's not how Robert described what he saw!"

"Well, we both know that Robert has a habit of embellishing when he gets excited." Shawn replied sarcastically.

"You sleeping in the arms of another woman? I can't imagine how he could embellish that." Her mother replied stepping into the kitchen and forcibly turning Shawn around to face her and threw down a challenge. "Tell me that she isn't the reason you called off the wedding."

"No, mother Alexi is not the reason I called off the wedding. 'Well, not that of knew at that time.' <\i> Shawn thought, the edges of her lips curling up in a slight smile.

The older woman didn't miss a trick and replied in an unflattering tone that caught Shawn's attention and ire. "Is that the woman that was here the other day. The one that works in the factory." She made it sound like some dirty low class thing to do.

"Yes, the same place that I work." Shawn answered looking directly into her mother's eyes in warning.

"I knew that place was trouble. We need to get you away from there and you will come to your senses again." Her mother announced as if she had the ultimate and final solution. A solution to a problem that only existed in her mind.

"We don't need to do anything, this is my life and I have to chose how and what I do with it." Shawn answered quietly and waited for the wrath that she knew that statement would invoke.

"If you were mature and capable of taking care of yourself, I wouldn't be put in this situation!" Her mother yelled at her. "Don't you think that everything I've done for you was so that you would have better than I did? How do you think all this looks for your father and I?"

"All my life you have controlled everything I've done and then proceeded to tell me what a disappointment I was because I wasn't what you wanted me to be. Well, I was exactly what you made of me and if are disappointed with that then whose fault was it?" Shawn let loose with things she hadn't even realized she had held pent up. She could feel her face growing red with unreleased frustration. Her mother stood back, her jaw clenching dangerously but Shawn couldn't stop now. "I can't be what you think you missed out of in life. I need to make my own decisions and my own mistakes instead of trying to make up for yours."

Shawn saw the hand come up but not quick enough to do more than flinch when the slap rang out against her cheek.

"How dare you say those things after everything your father and I have done for you. You have always been selfish. You have become nothing more than a cold, heartless bitch where your family is concerned. You're friends mean more to you than we do now." Her mother exploded as Shawn reached to touch her hot cheek as her eye stung and watered. She could feel the tears burning behind her eyes but refused to give into them. She wouldn't give her mother the satisfaction. Her mother had always known she had won when she could make Shawn cry. Not this time, not again!

"Don't ever do that again." Shawn replied coldly, her voice trembling with emotion. "I'm not a child that you can punish anymore."

Her mother stopped suddenly and raised her hand in an effort to touch Shawn's cheek where she had slapped it. Shawn flinched at the thought of another hit and her mother dropped her hand by her side sadly.

"I\rquote m sorry Shawn. I shouldn't have hit you. Sometimes you get me so upset and then you smart off asking for it. You've always known which buttons to push." Her mother remarked. Shawn shook her head with this reasoning.

"No mother. I've never asked for you to hit me." Shawn replied quietly and moved away from her mother.

"Shawn I just want what's right for you. I want you to be happy."

"Right in your eyes and on your terms though." Shawn leaned against the counter to stop her quivering legs and looked back at her mother. "Mother, I can't be what you want me to be."

"So, this is it, you pushed away Robert in favor of this woman?" Her mother was back on the topic of Alexi and Shawn just sighed and closed her eyes not knowing what to say. It hadn't started out this way, but now, yes that's exactly the way it was. Opening her eyes, she looked at her mother and replied, "I didn't leave Robert for Alexi, but the outcome seems to be heading in that direction."

"Well, I don't think I want to have this conversation with you right now when you are so upset. You will say things you don't mean and regret it later." Her mother replied and grabbed her keys and bag and headed toward the door. "We will talk later."

"Nothing will change mother. I won't change how I feel." Shawn called after the woman and she saw her shoulders stiffen once and then her mother was gone.

Shawn grabbed the cordless phone and sunk to the kitchen floor, resting her back against the cupboard and dialed Alexi. The phone was picked up on the first ring and all Shawn heard was, "I'll be right over."

Alexi was out of her car as soon as she saw the black vehicle pull out of the lot and up the stairs before ending the call. She hurried down the hall to Shawn's apartment and found the door unlocked.

Entering she looked around and didn't see Shawn until she heard a sound from the kitchen and headed in that direction. Turning the corner she saw Shawn on the floor resting against the cupboards with her head on her knees. Alexi instantly dropped to her knees next to Shawn and engulfed her in a hug.

Shawn jumped when she sensed someone next to her until she felt the familiar hold and caught a trace hint of Alexi's perfume.

"Hey, you okay?" Worry edged Alexi's voice and Shawn leaned back into her arms lifting her head from her knees.

"I am now." Shawn replied and turned into Alexi's arms as the tears spilled down her cheeks. Alexi held the little bundle tightly and rocked her until the tears stopped flowing.

"Okay?" Alexi asked and dried Shawn's wet cheeks with her hand. Shawn nodded and then looked up questioningly. "How did you get here so fast?"

Alexi grinned sheepishly, "I was waiting out in my car in the parking lot." Shawn burst out laughing and hugged the tall woman tightly. "Well, I'm just glad that you were."

"Hungry?" Alexi asked getting up and pulling Shawn to her feet, still keeping her arms around her.


"Well, how about I take you to breakfast and you can tell me what happened. If you want to that is?" Alexi offered not wanting to push Shawn too fast right now.

"Yeah, I'd like that." Shawn replied smiling up at Alexi. She had never been so captivated by anyone as she was with this tall raven-haired woman. She had never felt so safe and so natural then when she was in her arms.'Funny,'<\i> Shawn mused, 'for something that is suppose to be so wrong, why does it feel so right?'<\i>


Telling her story to Alexi went smoother than she thought it would and Shawn gave up worrying about everything and just enjoyed spending the day with Alexi. After lunch, they headed out to see a movie. In the darkened movie theatre, two hands searched until they found each other and held together tightly as the movie unfolded. It felt good to be close and the need for contact was strong for both of them.

They strolled out of the movie theater into the late afternoon sunshine. "What do you want to do now?" Alexi asked as she unlocked the car door for Shawn. Shawn got in and waited for Alexi to go around the car and slide behind the wheel before responding.

"Well, I do need to rent a car for work next week. The way they sounded, I don't think my car will be ready much before Thursday." Shawn replied wondering if her insurance would cover the cost or not. Money was going to be tight this month as she had put down alot of money on a wedding that would never happen.

Alexi watched Shawn chew on her bottom lip and it was quickly becoming a signal to Alexi that something was troubling the woman. "Why don't I give you a ride to work and you can save the expense of a rental. I mean we are both going in the same direction, why waste the money. The insurance companies never give you enough to actually rent a car and you end up paying out more than they do."

"It would be out of your way, you drive so far now as it is." Shawn protested even though she liked the idea of riding with Alexi everyday.

"What's the difference, I have to pass right by here on my way to and from the plant anyways, and...." Alexi argued and paused nervously, .."and I would like to."

"Oh, okay then, I would like that too." Shawn softly replied. She could feel her cheeks reddening. Suddenly, she felt very warm and the closeness of Alexi was becoming painfully obvious. Painful, in a rather wonderful way.

Alexi couldn't control herself any longer and reached over to gently tug the blonde's chin around to face her. Leaning over the console between them she briefly touched her lips to Shawn's and feeling no resistance, she continued the kiss, softly exploring the contours of her lips and mouth. They both parted with a sigh and Shawn rested her forehead against Alexi's.

"Are you okay?" Alexi's voice was husky with emotion.

"Oh yeah! I don't think I've ever been more alright than now." Shawn replied looking over into blue eyes. "I'm not sure what's going on, but I like it."

"What do you mean?" Alexi asked confused and worried.

"I've never felt this way about anyone in my life. I've never felt so comfortable or totally right before. Do you know what I mean?" Shawn tried to explain what she was feeling, but knew that her words were lacking.

Alexi smiled and nodded, "Yes I do." She hugged Shawn to her, relieved that it wasn't what she had feared. Alexi had learned her lesson in the past and had tried to steer clear of straight women and had feared that Shawn would pull back, not wanting her.

Shawn pulled back and looked into clouded blue eyes and took a breath before talking. "This may sound stupid but, I can't help but wondering...if this is so wrong, then why does it feel so right?"

"I guess because it is right." Alexi simply replied and kissed Shawn long and deep to show her just how right it felt for her too.

After a few more exchanged kisses, Alexi sat back grinning. "I guess we should get going. I think we've given everyone enough to see."

"Oh, God! I hadn't even thought about that! I'm so use to my windows being tinted and no one seeing in." Shawn ducked her head slightly as she looked around.

Alexi chuckled and replied, "Well since I don't see anyone passed out by the car, I guess we are safe."

"Very funny." Shawn giggled.

"What do you say we run by the store and get something to cook out?" Alexi offered.

"I don't have a grill." Shawn replied disappointedly.

"I do. Why don't we swing by your place and you can grab a few things and spend the night?" Alexi asked softly hoping that Shawn wouldn't be scared off.

"Okay, that would be great." Shawn replied quickly, without reservation.

Alexi smiled and pulled car out of the parking lot and headed toward Shawn's apartment, reaching out to hold Shawn's hand as they drove.

Shawn never questioned the prudence of her decision to spend the night and quickly packed a bag and left with Alexi. They stopped by the store and picked up dinner before arriving at their final destination. Dinner turned into a fun affair with both women working side by side.

"Want to watch a video?" Alexi asked as she dried the last dinner dish and placed it in the cupboard.

"Sure..what did you have in mind?" Shawn replied taking the offered towel from Alexi to dry her hands. After taking a few moments and finally agreeing on a movie, they settled back on the couch. Alexi moved so that she was sitting close to Shawn and pulled her hand into her lap and held it as they watched the movie.

"Comfortable?" Alexi whispered down to the blonde woman resting at her side. Her golden head nestled against the side of Alexi's shoulder.

"Very!" Shawn replied looking up into bright blue eyes. Blue locked with green and slowly they moved toward each other in a hypnotic dance until lips touched causing Shawn to moan and move into Alexi's arms. Time passed and the movie ended but neither woman noticed as their lips and tongues teased each other in a passion filled ritual. Alexi ran her hand up and down Shawn's back as Shawn's fingers continually found their way through Alexi's raven hair. Shawn could feel the fire burning deep within her and each time, Alexi would nip her lower lip or bite her lightly on the neck an instant feeling of heat would travel down her body.

"Oh God!" Alexi moaned as they broke to catch their breath. She could feel herself responding to every hesitant touch of Shawn's lips and as her tongue rimmed her lower lip, heat shot directly to her core and she went weak with desire.

"We need to go slowly Shawn. I don't want anything to happen that either one of us will regret in the morning." Alexi pulled back trying to maintain control of the situation.

"Me either." Shawn replied her heart racing in her ears. "I don't know what I am doing, these feelings are all new to me."

"I know, we have all the time in the world to explore them. Why don't we just get some sleep now." Alexi replied, shutting of the television and standing up. She turned to help Shawn up from off the couch and pulled her into her arms. "I just want you to know that you are safe with me. Nothing will ever happen that you don't want to happen. Okay?"

Shawn nodded and replied, "I am not afraid with you. I trust you."

"Good! Come on, let's get ready for bed." Alexi held Shawn's hand as she led her down the hallway to the bedroom. "I want wake up with you in my arms. Is that okay?" Alexi turned to look down at the blonde to see her reaction. She detected not one trace of fear, instead her smile was radiantly bright and Alexi knew that everything was working out right. Quickly changing and getting ready for bed, Shawn readily climbed into bed and into Alexi's arms. They kissed for a bit more and when Alexi could see that they were getting too close, she pulled back and kissed Shawn's forehead whispering, "I think we need to get some sleep", and pulled Shawn down into her arms with her head resting on the taller woman's shoulder. Shawn wrapped her arms around Alexi's waist and together they fell asleep.


Shawn awoke and stretched feeling the pressure of a body next to her looked down at the sleeping woman and smiled. She leaned up on an elbow and set to memorize every nuance and curve of the face below her. She loved the way Alexi's lips pursed in sleep and when she lightly brushed her finger along her cheek, Alexi smiled. Shawn felt her heart almost burst from the simple joy she felt. Shawn scooted down next to her and wrapped her arms around the sleeping body. Alexi shifted to pull Shawn in closer and the blonde lay in her arms contently watching the sleeping face before her. There was no where else in the world she wanted to be at that moment then right where she was. Shawn couldn't help herself as she stroked the cheek a few more times and was rewarded with that smile again. Reaching over she placed a light kiss on Alexi's forehead and was instantly rewarded with one and then two smiling eyes looking back at her.

"Good morning!" Alexi murmured sleepily. "What are you doing?"

"Watching you sleep." Shawn replied, a slight grin forming on her lips.

"Oh." Alexi murmured as the smile deepened. She pushed Shawn onto her back and leaned down over her eye to eye. "So you like watching me sleep huh? Did I drool?"

Shawn chuckled and replied, "No, but you sure are cute when you just wake up."

"I am huh?" Alexi replied and leaned over to lightly kiss Shawn, she continued peppering her face with light kisses and then returned to her lips for a deep, good morning kiss.

"Mmmmm." Shawn hummed and relaxed in Alexi's arms. "What you do to me!"

Alexi laughed and continued to tease her lips and kiss her until they were both breathless and flopped back on the bed. "How about some coffee?"

"Sounds good. I'll make it." Shawn offered as she pulled away from Alexi's arms to get out of bed. Alexi pulled her back and gave her one last, long kiss. "Thank you."

"No problem." Shawn blushed and got out of bed and went to the kitchen. A few moments later, she popped her head back into the bedroom, "How do you take it?"

"Excuse me?" Alexi replied started out of her reverie.

"Your coffee, what do you want in it?" Shawn laughed at her flustered friend.

"Oh, creme and a little sugar." Alexi replied recovered and smiling a bit mischeviously.

"Be right back."

Alexi lay back against the bed and thought about the blonde. 'Who would have thought last week, that she would be here with me. We need to take this slowly, things are happening a bit fast.'

Shawn returned with two mugs of steaming coffee and set one down on the nightstand next to Alexi. The two women leaned against the headboard and drank there coffee quietly. Finally, Alexi broke the silence by asking, "So, what do you want to do today?"

"I do have to run by the office today and start a batch printing of the SWI's for tomorrow. It should only take me an hour or two." Shawn replied apologetically. "Other than that, I'm free."

"The race is on today and I'd like to watch that this afternoon. What time is it?" Alexi asked, peering at the clock on the wall.

"Almost noon!" Shawn replied surprised at their late morning. "What race?"

"Nascar, you know like the Daytona and Talledagea?" Alexi offered watch to see if any of these names were familiar to Shawn.

Shawn shrugged her shoulders and replied, "Sorry, I know they are races, but I know absolutely nothing about them."

"Then you need to experience one today." Alexi replied and swung her legs off the side of the bed and got up. Turning to look back at Shawn she added, "I've got an idea, why don't I run you by work and you can do what you need to and we can get home in time to watch the last half of the race." Alexi stood quietly calculating the logistics of her plan. 'We can just do it, if things go on schedule.'

"I've got a better idea. If you don't mind, I could take your car and go to the office and start the batch job and then pick something up on the way home for dinner. This way you can rest and watch all of the race and I'll be here in time for the finish line." Shawn wanted the woman to stay home and relax before going back to work tomorrow, but she didn't want her to feel forced into loaning her the car either.

"Are you sure you want to go alone?" Alexi asked hesitantly, but warming to the idea. She really had no desire to get dressed and go out today. A day lounging on the couch with this blonde and a good race was more like the ticket for her.

"Not in the least. I'll be home before you know it." Shawn answered and got up. Quickly showering, she was ready and out the door as Alexi settled herself on the couch to watch television and wait for Shawn to return.

Shawn headed into the plant and up the stairs to the office. She had seen Pete's car in the parking lot and almost turned around and went back to Alexi's, but she had to get this work done for tomorrow. Taking a deep breath she stiffened her shoulders and went in to face the lion's den. Pushing open the door, she was pleasantly surprised to find the office empty. Pete must be somewhere down on the plant floor. Hopefully, she would get the print job started and out the door before he even knew she was around.

Logging on to her computer, she found a nasty surprise. Someone had taken the time to background on her desktop to a graphically suggestive photo. She also knew that she would be blamed for sexual harassment if anyone were to find it. Shawn quickly deleted the material and wiped it from the hard drive on her computer. Anger began to grow as she quickly punched up the reports she needed and sent them to the printer. Shawn heard a sound from the stairs and looked up to see who it was. She waited a few moments and when the door didn't open, she shrugged and went back to work. 'I'm jumpy, it just my imagination.' She thought for a moment and then sent a silent message to print another set of reports to a little used printer on the plant floor. She was covering her bases this time. Wrapping up some lose ends she looked at her watch and realized she had been there for over an hour, quickly logging off she grabbed her things and headed out the door. Heading down the stairs quickly, she felt her foot slide out from under her and she dropped her things and grabbed for the railing. Shawn caught herself just before tumbling down the rest of the stairs, but not before a burning pain seared through her ankle. She flexed the painful appendage and found that, although it hurt, she could still move it. She stepped on it gently to apply pressure and winced as her foot slid against the step again. Shawn reached down to touch the bottom of her shoe and found oil coating the bottom of it, looking back at the steps she noted an oil spill across three of the stairs. She knew it hadn't been there when she had arrived and looked up to see if anything could be leaking. There were no pipes or ductwork above the stairs as it went straight up to the ceiling devoid of anything. Shawn remembered hearing the noise earlier and looked around as fear creeped up her back making her hair stand on end. She quickly removed the messy shoe, gathered her things and cautiously made her way down the remaining stairs and out the door of the plant. She hobbled slightly in pain with one barefoot toward her car and threw her stuff in the back. Taking the shoe, she grabbed some Kleenex and cleaned off all the oil before putting it back on. Shawn rubbed the shoe back and forth against the pavement until she was sure that it was clean. She got behind the wheel and only stopped for Chinese food before heading back to Alexi.

Alexi looked up smiling as she heard the front door open. Her smile quickly turned to concern as she got of the sofa to help the hobbling woman carry in her packages.

"What happened?"

"Someone spilled oil on the stairs to the office and I damn near broke my neck leaving work." Shawn replied kicking off her shoes to relieve the pressure on her injured ankle.

"Sit down and let me take a look at it." Alexi ordered pulled a frozen pack from the freezer. Shawn sat down at the table and propped her foot on the other chair. Alexi looked over the ankle and it didn't appear to be bad, the swelling was slight and there were not bruises or lumps to indicate she had done anything but twist it.

Alexi placed the blue pack on Shawn's ankle, "Hold this here, to reduce the swelling."

"Did you see anyone?" Alexi asked as she put dishes from the cupboard and brought them to the table. Shawn began opening the cartons as they talked.

"No, but I did see Pete's car in the parking lot."

"That son of a bitch! I'm gonna nail his ass before he kills someone." Alexi spat out in anger.

"Once again, we have no proof!" Shawn replied calmly. "But, we do have plan!" She grinned mischievously and told her of the conversation between Angel and herself when Alexi had fallen asleep.

"Ooh that is too good. Angel is so devious, that's why I love her!" Alexi crooned and spooned out an assortment of food that Shawn had brought home. "Want to sit and watch the rest of the race with me?"

"Sure!" Shawn replied and got up to follow Alexi as she carried their plates to the coffee table in front of the television. Alexi explained Nascar racing and the various drivers as they ate and soon Shawn was getting into the race almost as much as Alexi. Shawn had to laugh on numerous occasions when Alexi would shout at the television, she had never seen her so excited before.

"I guess you could say this is one of my passions." Alexi offered when the race was finished and they were sitting on the sofa together.

"One of them?" Shawn asked coyly.

"I have many skills!" Alexi announced laughing and picked up the remote to flip through the channels.

They settled on a movie and cuddled up close to watch television. They cuddled and kissed and occasionally glanced at the television screen until it was time for bed.

"How's the ankle?" Alexi asked.

"Not to bad now, luckily I caught myself before I did any serious damage." Shawn replied yawning uncontrollably. "Sorry.."

"Tired?" Alexi asked leaning down and kissing the sweet lips that were curled up in response.

"Not now!" Shawn replied and kissed her back deeply and passionately. Soon both women were engrossed in each other and finally Alexi whispered in her ear, "What do you want to do?"

"Let's go to bed." Shawn replied, her voice husky with desire and need.

"Go get ready and I'll clean up in here and be right in." Alexi answered standing up and pulling the shorter woman up to her. She kissed her deeply before letting her go and quickly cleaned up and headed down the hall after her.

Shawn changed and slid under the covers and stretched out waiting for Alexi. Alexi slipped under the covers and pulled Shawn into her arms and settled against her for a moment. She wanted nothing more than to make love to this woman in her arms, but caution held her back.

Shawn began to nibble the neck that was displayed before her causing Alexi to shiver and react. Alexi rolled over to lean down onto Shawn and began to kiss her and moved her hand under the blonde's T-shirt to caress an already hardening nipple. Alexi groaned at the reaction of Shawn's body to her attention. Shawn continually assaulted Alexi's neck causing a rush to her core and she wanted to make love to this woman more than anything.

"Are you okay?" Alexi asked pulling back to look down at Shawn.

"More than alright. Can we lose this?" Shawn asked plucking at Alexi's T-shirt.

"Sure!" Alexi replied and pulled the shirt off over her head. Shawn's hands immediately went to cup the creamy breasts that lay above her.

"Your turn." Alexi replied tugging up on Shawn's shirt until she could pull it gently over the blonde's head. Alexi leaned down and kissed Shawn, teasing her lips until they opened to her and then began to blaze a trail down to her breasts. Alexi rolled a hardened nipple between her lips and lightly sucked it into her mouth as her other hand traveled to the other breast and gently rolled the nipple between her finger tips. Shawn had never felt anything like she did this and never wanted anything more than for Alexi to continue what she was doing. Shawn's whole body responded to that one act. Alexi could feel the rapid beating of Shawn's heart under her lips and was consumed with a desire to touch the woman everywhere. Alexi kissed her way down Shawn's body as she moaned in response to everything the raven-haired woman made her feel. Shawn could feel a burning in her core as it felt like it was on fire. Alexi moved back up to pay homage to the breasts that waited patiently and gently ran her hand up and down Shawn's thigh and cupped her sex feeling the heat that radiated from Shawn. Alexi sighed at the gift she knew was being offered. Slowly and with great love she earned the gift that Shawn offered up to her.

Shawn could barely breath with the multitude of emotions she was feeling at that moment. She couldn't believe that Alexi could make her feel so much so quickly. Her past experiences had always left her with time to think about what to do and how to react. But, Alexi was taking her to new heights faster and farther than she could ever imagine. When Alexi's tongue touched her for the first time, she thought she would explode from the force of the passion that she felt and came quickly in a rush of heat and desire.

Alexi moved up to hold Shawn in her arms and kissed her as she calmed from the wave that overtook her. "Are you okay?"

Shawn chuckled at her lack of words to describe how she felt at that moment, instead she placed both hands on either of Alexi's cheeks and drew her in for a soul searing kiss. She showed her everything she possibly could in that one moment as desire began to mount within her again. She rolled Alexi over onto her back and proceeded to follow her need and made love to her friend. Kissing and nipping her way across Alexi's skin until she dipped her tongue in the woman's navel causing her to shudder. Not sure of what she was doing, she followed the natural progression and moved to kiss the lips below and run her tongue lightly along the folds until they parted in a need of their own.

Alexi had never felt so aroused in her entire life, she felt like rivers were flowing through her and around her and she marveled at how one person could make her feel more than she had in a long time. She gently ran her ringers through Shawn's hair and let the sensations overtake her.

Shawn found the spot she searched for, the one that made Alexi quiver and began to tease and kiss it until she could feel Alexi surrendering herself and one last push sent her toppling over the side and into Shawn's arms. Shawn held Alexi tightly until both their breathing returned to normal and one last kiss was all they needed as they held one another and feel asleep to the beating of one heart.


The morning sunshine broke warmly across the bed as Shawn awoke and stretched her body out, almost purred with contentment. She looked over at Alexi who stirred slightly at the movement next to her. Grinning, Shawn wrapped herself around the taller woman and nestled her face into Alexi's neck. Alexi in response, shifted and wrapped her arms around the body that clung to her. Peeking open an eye, she looked down at the blonde head that rested on her shoulder and closed her eyes again sighing.

"You awake?" Shawn whispered, not sure if Alexi's reaction was because she was awake or just responding in her sleep to the stimulus.


"I'll take that as a 'not sure'." Shawn replied smiling and kissed the nape of the long neck. Finding the skin so smooth and enticing she gently kissed and nipped her way around and up the jawline until she reached Alexi's lips, where she ran her tongue lightly around the edges before placing a soft, gentle kiss on the pursed lips.

"Mmmmm, I could like waking up like this!" Alexi murmured peeking out from hooded eyes to look directly into bright green orbs. "We are very alert this morning aren't we?" Alexi watched as a sly smile curled Shawn's lips upwards and knew she was up to something. Alexi decided to call her bluff and quickly rolled over pushing the woman backward on the bed. Shawn squealed slightly and looked up momentarily surprised at the sudden action. Alexi leaned down and kissed Shawn long and deeply until their breathing was ragged before she pulled back.

"Good morning to you too!" Alexi's voice was low and silky as she gently kissed and nipped the blonde's lips. She pulled back and ran a hand lightly down the side of Shawn's face, she loved to feel the soft skin and rested her hand against the cheek as she kissed Shawn again.

Shawn wrapped her arms around Alexi's waist and pulled her closely so that her body rested tightly against her chest. The feel of the bare flesh touching was indescribable to her. Shawn continued to run her hands up and down Alexi's bare back, running them as far down the woman's body as her short arms would allow. She wished she could reach to cup the firm bottom and pull Alexi in closer to her, but she had to content herself with running her hands along the top of the tall woman's hips.

Alexi rested her head against Shawn's chest as the later lightly drew circles on the woman's bare back. They lay quiet for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts, each totally comfortable with the current situation. Shawn thought things were perfect until she felt Alexi's body stiffen up.

"What's wrong?"

Alexi lifted her head and looked down into worried green eyes and smiled, trying to still the fear she saw reflected back. "Nothing with us, I was just thinking about work."

"Oh." Shawn breathed out in relief. She thought that Alexi was having second thoughts or something. "What exactly are you worried about?"

"That Pete will get away with hurting you before we can nail him." Alexi answered sharply and slid off Shawn to lay beside her, holding her tightly in an unconscious act of protection.

"Don't worry, we will think of something. Angel has some good ideas too. Maybe we can get together after work and talk about them and come up with a solid plan of action." Shawn suggested this hoping to alleviate some of Alexi's fears. She could tell in the tight way Alexi held her that she was uneasy with the state of affairs at the plant.

The women languished in bed a while longer until Shawn's stomach started to rumble. "I guess that's our cue." Alexi laughed and rolled over on to her back releasing Shawn in the process. "I'll go make some coffee."

"Wait!" Shawn called out and pulled Alexi back toward her and planted a long wet kiss on her. "Okay, now you can make some coffee." Alexi looked back at Shawn startled and then shook her head laughing as she got up.

"You just want to see me running around naked." Alexi teased as she reached for her robe.

"Well, I have to admit, the view is pretty good from here." Shawn retorted smiling mischievously. "No fair!" She complained when the robe was donned cutting off the perfect view. Shawn watched Alexi walk out of the bedroom chuckling as she said in a mock boredom, "I guess I will just go take a shower since there is nothing good to watch here."

"You'd better hurry or you just might have company in there." Alexi retorted over her shoulder as she went down the hall.

"And that's suppose to be a threat I take it?" Shawn called out laughing as she got up and headed to the bathroom. She took a quick shower, dressed and was just coming out of the bathroom when Alexi re-entered the bedroom with two mugs of steaming coffee.

"Here you go cream, no sugar." Alexi replied kissing Shawn lightly on the lips before disappearing into the bathroom to take her shower.

"Perfect!" Shawn took another sip of her coffee and moved toward the living room to check her email on her laptop. Setting it up, she began to go through the numerous messages that had accumulated in the past 48 hours. Engrossed in what she was doing, she never heard Alexi return until the woman sat next to her on the sofa and remarked, "Pretty popular aren't you?"

Shawn jumped slightly and Alexi put her arm around her in response. "No, not really. A lot of this is chatter generated from a couple of lists that I belong to. I usually delete most of it and without even reading it." Shawn answered relaxing against the arm and warm body wrapped around to her. "Want to use it?"

"Can you get to Town Talk?" Alexi asked.

"Sure." Shawn replied and began typing in the commands. Soon they were in the chat room of Alexi's choice and, no sooner had they entered the room, when everyone was hailing the raven haired beauty. "Look whose the popular one now! Go in there often I take it?"

Alexi grinned sheepishly. "Well, there wasn't much to do when I would get off working second shift, so I got in the habit of checking out the rooms to see what was going on. Sometimes it gets pretty wild in there and I end up sitting here laughing my head off. Cheap entertainment you could say." Shawn watched as Alexi maneuvered between the rooms and chatted with people she knew until she got bored with it.

"Well, we had better get going or we will be late for work." Alexi announced and went to retrieve her pager and car keys. Heading out to the parking lot, Shawn saw the scratches on Alexi's car again. "Maybe when my car is back from the shop, you can take yours in and get these fixed. You can keep my car and pick me up for work until yours is ready?"

"That's probably a good idea. It shouldn't take the dealer more than a couple of days to fix them." Alexi replied unlocking the doors and getting behind the wheel. Alexi reached over and turned Shawn to face toward her, and kissed her again deeply.

"What's that for? Not that I am complaining or anything!" Shawn asked as she tried to calm her accelerating heartbeat. Every time Alexia so much as looked at her, she could feel her heart begin to race.

"I wanted to get one last kiss in before we got to work. It's going to be hard being close to you and not being able to touch you or anything now. We have to be very careful." Alexi replied as she pulled the car out of the parking lot and headed toward the plant.

"I hadn't thought about that. Maybe, I should just stay in the office and not come out during lunch or breaks?" Shawn thought worriedly about the ramifications if Pete should get wind of their relationship. He could cause a lot of trouble for her, not to mention a lot of malicious gossip around the plant. Feeling a warm hand on her thigh, she was pulled from these thoughts and looked over into two sparking blue eyes as Alexi smiled at her.


"Don't worry about it. I want you to come down for lunch and breaks. I can't go all day without at least seeing you." Alexia winked and squeezed the thigh beneath her hand. "We will just have to be careful, that's all."

Shawn nodded and grasped the hand on her thigh and held it as they drove into work quietly. Pulling into the lot, they parked next to Angel who was just getting out of her truck.

"Hey you two, did you have a good weekend?" Angel called out as she walked around her truck to fall into step with the two women.

Alexi caught the gleam in Angel's eye and gave her a look as Shawn, oblivious to the encounter replied, "Yes.. actually we did." Alexi just growled in response as Angel began to chuckle. Shawn looked over and ducked her head blushing when she realized exactly what they were talking about.


Shawn carefully made her way up the stairs to her office, the oil had long since been cleaned up, but her ankle was still tender and she didn't want to take any chances. Opening the door, she came face to face with Pete who was about to leave the office.

"About time you got here. I left the proposed changes for line one on your desk. I suggest you get started on those as quickly as possible, we need them by the end of the day." Pete didn't even look at her as he made his way out of the office, his tone of voice barely civil to her.

"Good morning to you too!" Shawn muttered sarcastically under her breath and sat down at her desk. She pulled the work out of her in basket and looked it over before starting. Something didn't look right as she scanned the proposed changes. This section of the line ran at 52 cycle/min and these changes would only work if that speed were increased by 75%, and that, Shawn knew was an impossibility. She looked at the approval signature and found that Pete was both the originator and the approver on this project. 'Not good.' <\i> Shawn thought to herself and called down to the floor to find Pete. Pete had made himself scarce and Shawn needed an answer right away if she were to finish before the end of the day. She thought for a moment before making a decision and picked up the paper and headed down to line one to find the shift supervisor. After a brief conversation with him, the decision was confirmed to make the necessary adjustments to the figures so that the change in the line would work properly. Heading back to the office she began to make the corrections and worked until lunch break. She saved her work and logged off so that no one could, hopefully, tamper with what she was doing, and headed down to where Angel and Alexi waited at the picnic tables outside. As Shawn exited the factory, she saw that Pete sat at a table near Alexi, she could also see the dark woman's expression on her face and shivered at the sight. Alexi watched Pete with undisguised hostility and, Shawn could see Angel trying to keep her calm. Pete, on the other hand, acted oblivious to the exchange and sat smoking and talking with some of the guys. As Shawn neared the tables, she felt her arm being tugged harshly from behind.

"Shawn, we need to talk." Shawn turned to find Robert standing next to her holding her arm.

"Robert! What are you doing here?" Shawn tried to extract her arm from his grip but, he hung on tighter and turned her to face him with her back to the picnic tables.

"Every time I try to stop by, your girlfriend's car is always over." Robert announced loudly. Shawn cringed as she heard the noise behind them ceased. She knew that all ears were pinned on the conversation taking place.

"We have nothing further to discuss. Please let me go." Shawn replied quietly, hoping that Robert would keep his voice down too. Robert snorted and motioned with his head in the direction that Alexi sat. "You are with her now, is that how it is? You decided you'd rather be with that dyke then me?"

Shawn felt the flush in her cheeks deepen as she pulled to free her arm. "Just go away Robert. She isn't the reason that I called the wedding off. I told you before, I am not in love with you and don't want to get married. It's as simple as that."

"You never gave me a chance. One day you tell me that you don't love me and the next, I catch you sleeping with her! You can't just expect me to go away without some kind of explanation can you?" Robert shouted, his voice a mix of anger and hurt.

Shawn cringed at the last comment and knew that everyone had heard it too. 'Now, what do I do?'<\i> she thought desperately. "Robert, it's over. It's no one's fault, but mine. You didn't see what you thought you did. Now please, just leave me alone."

"No, it's not over, not until you and I talk." Robert shouted and pulled on Shawn's arm to get her to follow him.

Shawn pulled back and cried out in pain. "Let me go! You're hurting me!"

Alexi saw Robert approach and went to get up, but was restrained by Angel. "Wait!" Angel warned and held the woman to her seat. They listened as Robert laid their entire relationship out in the open for everyone to hear. Alexi swallowed hard as she felt the eyes around her turn toward her. She also knew that there was no going back now. When Shawn cried out in pain, Alexi started and Angel released her arm hissing, "Go get him!"

Alexi was up like a shot and heading toward Shawn. "Let her go!" Alexi ordered in a quiet, cold voice.

"Stay out of this! You've caused enough trouble lately." Robert replied. "This is between Shawn and myself."

"Not anymore, you've just included me!" Alexi replied and dug her fingers into the muscle on Robert's arm, effectively breaking his hold on Shawn.

Robert pulled his arm out of Alexi's grip and rubbed where her fingers had made an indention. "I don't want any trouble with you. I just want to make Shawn understand."

"You can't make Shawn do anything! She's not some child that you can tell what to do. She is a grown woman and can make up her own mind. You and her mother need to understand that fact and leave her alone." Alexia stood her ground and took a deep breath and faced Robert waiting for his response.

"You don't speak for Shawn either!" Robert replied defensively.

"No she doesn't!" Shawn's voice broke through the tension. "I'm the one asking you to leave Robert. I don't want you to come around me anymore. Do you understand that?"

Robert stood deflated and looked at Shawn who had acquired a hardened stare. She watched Robert until she saw him give up and walk away. Breathing a sigh of relief, Shawn looked up at Alexia and saw that her attention was unfavorably focused on something behind her. Turning, she noted that Pete stood with a malicious grin on his face as he watched the whole scenario unfold. Pete said something to the guys at the table, who snickered as he made his way back to the plant passing by the two women.

"That answers a lot of questions." Pete replied as he walked into the plant. Slowly, the men followed until there was just the three women left. Shawn looked up, her eyes glazed with unshed tears.

"I'm so sorry! I never expected him to do something like this. I've ruined everything."

"Don't worry about it." Alexi replied and pulled Shawn into a brief hug. There was no need to hide now, but she also didn't want to fuel any fires. "We will handle this too."

Angel walked up and put her arm around both girls and led them back toward the plant. "Let's just take things as they come. There will be talk, but it's not like they haven't talked about people before. If you don't react, they will eventually get bored and move on to something else. I'm help handle any scuttle-butt that comes through me."

Shawn numbly walked back toward the office and prayed that Pete wasn't at his desk. Finding the office empty, Shawn sat down and her hands shook as she finished making the corrections. By the last break of the day, Shawn was testing the new program and getting ready to release it. Double checking her figures, she ran two copies of the corrected SWI's and saved the program to a shielded area before placing an original SWI's in the distribution bin.

Shawn walked outside and saw Pete's friends, but didn't see Angel or Alexia, and sat down at an empty table to wait. It wasn't long before she started hearing the comments wafted over from the other table. She ignored their jibes and snickering for as long as possible before she turned and looked directly at them, without saying a word Shawn just stared at them. 'If you are going to talk about me, then you are going to do it to my face, not behind my back!'<\i> She thought angrily and kept staring until the group grew silent and looked away.

"Hey Shawn!" Mickey called out and sat across the table from the blonde diverting her attention away from the group of men who began to shift uncomfortably. "Is it true what I hear about you and Alexi?"

"Yeah, so you want to make something of it too?" Shawn barked at him quickly. Mickey sat back as far as he could on the bench, the surprise evident on his face.

"No, I just heard the rumor and...well...I don't have a problem with it." He finished gruffly, Shawn had taken him totally by surprise, he hadn't expected the hostility from her.

"I'm sorry Mickey. I guess I'm just upset at some of the idiots around here and I'm taking it out on the wrong people." Shawn apologized, but couldn't help looking over at the other table with a sneer.

"Yeah, well it takes all kinds to make up this world and unfortunately, there are plenty of fools in it too." Mickey replied, easing back toward the table and getting comfortable.

Shawn looked toward the plant to see if Alexi or Angel were coming out and cringed when she saw Pete headed in their direction. As he neared the group of men he called out to Mickey causing the men to burst into laughter.

"Don't waste your time Mickey, you're not her type!"

"Jealous?" A low familiar voice asked from directly behind Shawn and she felt a comforting presence touch her shoulder. Shawn relaxed as Angel and Alexi flanked her on either side and sat down. Alexi didn't take her eyes from Pete until he silently turned away.

"Jerk!" Alexi muttered under her breath, but it was still loud enough for most to hear. Pete turned back around and gave them a hostile look and spat, "Excuse me. Do you have something to say to me?"

"I'm on break, I don't have to talk to you! Didn't your mother ever tell you it's not nice to listen in on other people's conversations?" Alexi retorted and held her body stiffly in the showdown. Finally, Pete turned around for few moments before getting up and angrily making his way back into the plant.

"So Mickey, aren't you afraid of sitting at a table full of dykes?" Alexi asked sarcastically, her anger still evident in her voice.

"Naw! Tougher group here, makes me feel safer!" The little man retorted with a straight face. Alexi looked around the group momentarily shocked until someone started giggling causing them all to break out into laughter.

"You better believe it!"

Shawn didn't see Pete the rest of the shift. He never came back to the office and when it was time to leave, she breathed a sigh of relief. She checked to make sure that a copy of her work was handed to the line one supervisor before she left for the day. She smiled when she saw Alexi waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs and together they walked out of the plant. Alexi dropped Shawn off at her apartment with a kiss and a promise to pick her up in the morning. Shawn wasn't surprised when the telephone rang ten minutes after she walked through the door.

"Hello mother."


The next day it was business as usual at work and tensions were running pretty high. After lunch break, line one went down and Pete came over to the main floor waving a piece of paper and announcing to everyone that Shawn had screwed up again. Shawn approached Pete and the line supervisor and grabbed the SWI out of his hand, looking it over she realized that the corrections were the ones that Pete has requested, not the ones she had actually made.

"I don't know where you got this, but it isn't my work." Shawn announced loudly before turning to face the supervisor. "Do you still have your copy of the SWI I gave you yesterday?"

The supervisor nodded and trotted off to retrieve it from his desk. In the meantime, Shawn turned to Pete who stood smugly standing there while everyone looked on.

"I don't know what you think you are doing Pete, but this time I've documented the changes that I have made in two separate places. I can prove to you and everyone else that this is not my work. Next time, you need to be more careful if you are going to falsify documents." Shawn didn't expect the response that she got and when Pete began to approach her, she stepped back fearfully.

"Are you accusing me of tampering with the work here?" Pete's face was beet red and his hands were clenched at his sides. Shawn was sure the anger was from the fact that she had stood up and confronted him in front of everyone.

"It's the only thing that makes sense. If I didn't do it, you are the only one with that level access." Shawn replied and continued to face down the man. Pete jabbed his finger in Shawn's chest and she winced stepping back again.

"If you women remembered your place and stayed there, we wouldn't have to keep having these problems. Oh, I forgot, you don't swing that way do you?" Pete sneered and continued poking his finger at Shawn.

"You touch me one more time and I'm gonna shove that finger so far up your ass, you will be picking your nose from the inside!" Shawn replied in anger, her voice escalating with every word surprising Pete, who stopped and backed up. Shawn had had all she was going to take from him.

"Isn't that some kind of sexual harassment?" Mickey asked as he stepped up to the tight circle of people around the arguing couple. "Pete, I don't think you can touch Shawn like that." Mickey's eyes twinkled in delight, but he kept a straight face as he watched the heads in the crowd nod in agreement. Obviously, Pete wasn't a favorite with as many people he thought.

"I'd keep out of this, if I were you Mickey. Unless you don't like your job." Pete kept his voice low as he threatened the little man. Mickey wasn't backing down and kept his position smiling.

"I don't think Mickey is the one who has anything to worry about here." Alexi announced as she walked up to the crowd accompanied by the line supervisor and Angel.

"Seems like the proof is right here that Shawn didn't generate that SWI. Here is the one she did." The supervisor laid out the correct copy for everyone to see.

"That doesn't mean she didn't do this one too. It has her initials on it." Pete defended quickly.

"It also has your initials on it too, so that would mean you are just as much at fault for the problem as she is." The supervisor spoke up, indicating the administrative section on the SWI.

"So, you're saying I did this?" Pete asked the supervisor furiously.

"All I'm saying is that if she is going to get called for this one, so will you because both initials appear on the SWI." The supervisor replied and turned to walk away. As far as he was concerned this conversation was over. He wasn't necessarily on anyone's side, he was just tired of their feud interfering with the running of his line. He went back to make the necessary adjustments to the line and get his people back to work.

"This is total bullshit!" Pete retorted. "You got away with it this time, but not next time!"

"Are you threatening me?" Shawn asked deliberately and waited for his response. Pete just turned without comment, crumpled up the SWI and tossed it at her before walking away. The crowd began to drift back to their stations to wait the restart of the line.

Alexi walked up to her and without touching her asked, "You okay?"

"Yeah." Shawn replied tired and shaky from her altercation with Pete. She was at the end of her patience where he was concerned and it took every ounce of strength she had to maintain some form of composure around him. She couldn't even stand the sight of him anymore and that was out of character for her, usually she could tolerate just about anyone.

"Come on, let's take a break." Alexi suggested and tugged on Shawn's sleeve until the woman turned and followed her. Alexi led her out into the parking lot away from the plant and prying eyes. At the far end of the parking lot was the familiar stand of trees. Alexia pulled Shawn behind the biggest one and wrapped her arms around her and kissed her.

"Mmmmm, I needed that." Shawn murmured savoring the feel of the soft lips on her own.

"Anytime, consider it cheap therapy." Alexi replied grinning before she kissed her again, this time deeper and longer.

"Ooh, I'm not sure I can afford these session." Shawn joked, her mood lightening under the circumstances.

"You can run a tab, no problem."

"Well, eventually I am going to have to pay the tab. Not sure I will ever have that much money." Shawn replied smiling against Alexi's lips.

"Oh, I can think of another way you can pay it off." Alexi replied seductively putting her knee between Shawn's and pulling her closer.

"That payment I think I can handle." Shawn replied huskily and turned to kiss her deeply. "Oh yes, I think there won't be any problem at all."


The rest of the week was uncharacteristically quiet. Pete kept to himself, but Shawn had the feeling he was up to something by the good humor he seemed to be in. Friday, came and she was more than happy to leave the plant and head home with Alexi. Alexi dropped her off at her apartment to pack a few things while she went to her dental appointment, and would pick her up when she was thorough. Shawn had just finished showering and dressing when she heard a knock at the front door. Thinking it was Alexi, she leaned against the doorframe and pulled the door quickly open.

"Baby, I've missed you!"

Shawn's seductive expression soon changed to surprise as she stood face to face with the minister from their family church.


"Rev. Thomas...I was expecting someone else. I'm sorry.." Shawn stammered, she could feel her ears and face burning with embarrassment.

"I gathered. May I come in?" He asked staunchly. Rev. Thomas had always been a pretty decent minister as they go. He was always cheerful and upbeat and didn't preach fire and brimstone all the time. He could relate to today's world more than the older ministers of their faith ever could.

"I'm sorry, come on in." Shawn stepped back flustered and awkward in her embarrassment. She could only imagine the reason for his visit was her mother. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, or should I say who do I owe?" She asked as she motioned for him to take a seat in the living room.

"Shawn, your mother called me yesterday and we had long talk. It seems she is quite concerned with the recent turn of events in your life. I have to admit, after you left the marriage session so abruptly, I was a bit concerned too." Rev. Thomas replied as he settled down on the sofa.

'So concerned that you couldn't pick up the phone and call, you had to wait for my mother to bully you into coming here!'<\i> Shawn thought sarcastically, but plastered a smile on her face. "Can I get you anything? Some coffee or tea?"

"No, no...I'm fine. But, what about you? Can you tell me what's going on?" He asked solicitously as leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

"What do you mean? What has my mother told you?" Shawn questioned, she wasn't sure just exactly how much she would have to answer for and wasn't thrilled with this intrusion into her life.

"She's told me about your calling off the wedding and your new friend. She feels it's all caused by your new job. Do you think she may be right?"

Shawn stifled a chuckle and replied, "The changes in my life have nothing to do with my new job. I've just come to the realization that I was not interested in Robert the way that I should be to marry him. I thought it was better to stop it now before either one of us made a bigger mistake by getting married."

"Wasn't this decision a sudden one? I mean, you two have been dating for almost two years and all of a sudden you decided that you didn't want to be a part of his life. Are you sure this doesn't have anything to do with your new friend?" The Reverend tried to casually ease Alexi into the conversation. Shawn knew she would have to face the questions sooner or later and decided to let the Rev. Thomas ask the questions before offering any more information then necessary.

"I guess you could say that it's taken me two years to realize that being married to him was what everyone but me wanted." Shawn replied and left it at that. 'If he wanted a detailed account of her relationship with Alexi, then he was just going to have to ask detailed questions,'<\i> Shawn thought defensively.

"Was Robert abusive to you in any way?" He questioned methodically as though he had it all planned out and it all led somewhere.

"No, he basically is a really nice guy."

"Then what was the problem." Rev. Thomas kept throwing the ball back into Shawn's court, but she could see it coming and sent it back easily. "I just realized that I didn't love him and I didn't think that was a good basis for a marriage."

"I can see we are going to do this the hard way aren't we Shawn?" Rev. Thomas asked smiling. His questions were not receiving the answer he was looking for and realized that Shawn knew what he was trying to get at. "So, what about this new friend I keep hearing about?"

"You mean Alexi? Actually, she is due here any minute." Shawn answered trying to keep her voice calm, she could feel her heart racing and her palms were getting sweaty. She wasn't sure she was ready for this conversation yet. She knew what she wanted, but had never vocally expressed it.

"Shawn are you in a relationship with her?" Rev. Thomas asked simply and sat back waiting for the question to sink in and for the woman to respond to it.

Shawn's eyes opened wider. The conversation had taken every direction but this one, and the direct frontal assault caught her off guard for a moment. She looked directly into the questioning brown eyes and swallowed before answering calmly, "Yes."

"You do know how the church feels about these relationships? Scripture clearly states, "if a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination." After he finished reading the passage, he looked up at Shawn questioningly.

"Yes, I am well aware of how you and my mother interpret scripture and what you believe. But, I also have to believe what is in my heart and I have never in my life felt so right about something or someone. If this is so wrong, then tell me, why would God, after all this time, let me feel this way?" Shawn asked sincerely.

"God gives us the freedom to choose between right and wrong Shawn, he doesn't make us feel one way or the other."

"If that is the case, then why did the "right way" feel so totally wrong and the "wrong way" feel so totally right for me. I wasn't out looking for this relationship, it just happened." Shawn tried to explain to the minister.

"Scripture clearly states that this is wrong Shawn. I think you are being led astray. You are at a vulnerable stage in your life and outside influences are leading in the wrong direction." Rev. Thomas stated firmly. "There are no gray areas here. It is in black and white." He added and slapped his Bible soundly.

Shawn was beginning to feel cornered and this new aggressiveness from the normally mild man was beginning to make her feel uncomfortable. "I was always taught that God was not a respecter of persons and if he can accept a murderer, rapist or a thief...what am I doing so wrong that he cannot accept me?"

Rev. Thomas did not like the attitude he was receiving from Shawn. He felt that she was not taking this seriously enough and he leaned forward, closer to Shawn to get her full attention. "I think you need to rethink your attitude. I don't think you really know what you are doing right now, your judgement is being clouded. Do you really know what love is? It is not just the sexual act, it is the day to day living of a righteous life together!" The reverend's voice grew louder and louder as he spoke and Shawn got up in response and backed away from him.

"Right now, I can't imagine living my life without Alexi in it. I don't think this is a sin. I love her and if being with her means that I am damned, then so be it!" Shawn shouted back at him.

"What the hell is going on in here?" Alexi asked from the doorway. She had heard the shouting when she had reached the top of the stairs and hurried toward Shawn's apartment to find it was coming from inside. Thankfully, Shawn had left the door unlocked and Alexi had opened the door to hear the last of Shawn's statement. She pushed aside the knowledge that she had heard Shawn say she loved her, for the concern she felt at the blonde's obvious distress.

"Alexi!" Shawn called out and moved toward her lover. The Reverend stood up and it looked as though he would try to block the blonde from reaching her and Alexi moved forward protectively. Shawn sidestepped. Rev. Thomas and stood next to Alexi.

"It's okay. This is Rev. Thomas, he stopped by to talk to me." Shawn explained trying to diffuse the situation. Alexi stopped her approach and turned to address Shawn. "Are you okay?"

"I assure you, I've done nothing to harm Shawn. I'm here only because I care and am concerned for her welfare." Rev. Thomas answered.

Alexi looked at him coldly, she hadn't asked him, and turned back to Shawn with a raised eyebrow. Shawn touched her arm and replied, "I'm fine, really."

"I could hear you two yelling down the hallway. That didn't sound fine to me." Alexi wasn't convinced of Shawn's attempt at cheerfulness. She could see that the green eyes were clouded with concern and sadness.

"Maybe we should all sit down and continue the discussion Shawn and I were having, since it concerns you as well." Rev. Thomas offered and sat back down on the sofa waiting. Shawn looked at Alexi who used her eyes to question the request. Shawn shrugged and pulled Alexi down on the love seat next to her, facing the minister.

"First, I'd like to ask you, Alexi, what your feelings are about the Bible." Rev. Thomas picked the book up and handed it to the tall woman.

Alexia took the book and looked down at it before answering and handed the book back to him. "It is a nice book that has been translated by too many people with too many interpretations."

"So, you don't believe in what it says?"

"It's a nice story." Alexi answered remaining calm.

"So you don't believe in God either, I take it?" The Reverend was beginning to get a little agitated at the response from these young women. They were too young to be so skeptical and jaded about the most important thing in their lives.

"I didn't say that!" Alexi answered quickly. "I said that book was a nice story that has been over translated. I believe there is a higher power, call it the Universe, call it what you will. Just because I don't believe in the Bible doesn't mean I don't believe there is something greater out there."

"The Bible states that the word is from God and God is the word." The reverend replied. He had heard all this before and was no stranger to her disbelief.

"So you say." Alexi simply replied. "All I know is that, everyone loves to use that book to state what is right and wrong and you all have a different idea of exactly what that is. You forgive all kinds of criminals and condemn people because of love. I am who I am, not out of choice, I just am!"

"You have a choice." Rev. Thomas stated quietly and opened his Bible to find scripture to back up his statement.

"I didn't wake up one day and decide to be gay! It is just who I am! If I had a choice, would I chose something that I would be ridiculed and hated for?" Alexia asked angry and exasperated at the age-old argument. She had been fighting this battle longer than she could remember. She had known she was gay very early in her life and had come out when she was still a teenager. Her parents had accepted this over time and she had had the benefit of this acceptance for many years. She knew it was harder for Shawn because she was doing it later in life before she even had the time to grasp it all herself. Alexi knew they had something special between then and wasn't afraid of losing that, she just didn't want to see the blonde suffer anymore than she had to.

"You can chose whether to act upon it or not." Rev. Thomas replied closing the Bible and standing up.

"You are right. I can chose whether to have love in my life or never to love again." Alexi answered and looked at Shawn. "But, as for Shawn, I think that choice is for her to make, not for me, you, her mother or Robert."

"I'm here as a friend. I just want you to understand what is at stake." The reverend once again tried to assert his belief without sounding pious or hypocritical.

"I think I know what is at stake." Shawn spoke up finally causing the other two to turn in her direction each expectant for different reasons. Shawn looked at the reverend and then at Alexi and whispered, "I'm sorry'.

Alexi's heart dropped when she heard Shawn's whisper until the blonde turned to the reverend. "I'm sorry Rev. Thomas, but I must choose love."

Alexi wanted to grab Shawn up in her arms in relief, in happiness and in love. She restrained herself to just a wink when Shawn looked back over at her.

That wink was all the confirmation Shawn needed as she walked the minister to the door sure for the first time in her life that she was doing what she needed to do.

"I'm sorry too Shawn. I worry about you and the life you two have chosen for yourselves. I will continue to remember you and your family in my prayers. If you ever need to talk, you know now where I am." Rev. Thomas replied and left with a brief nod to Alexi. 'Now, how do I explain to her mother I wasn't successful?'<\i> He thought sadly to himself as he walked down the stairs.

Shawn closed the door behind Rev. Thomas and turned to look at Alexia with a strange look on her face and Alexia stopped and waited, unsure what she should do.

"You were worried about my answer just now, why?" Shawn stood with her back to the door leaning against it for support. She wasn't sure what answer she expected, but she needed to know.

Alexi took a deep breath before answering and looked directly into green eyes. "I know how hard this is on you. I know what the cost will be with your family. Had you answered differently, I wouldn't have liked it, but I would have understood."

"You would have let me just walk away?" Shawn wasn't sure whether she liked this revelation or not.

"If that is what you really wanted, yes." Alexi replied quietly, she knew she wouldn't have been able to let her go that easily, but she also knew that she would never force Shawn to stay.

"It's that simple then?" Shawn replied and walked into the kitchen. She had mixed emotions at the moment and needed to do something more than just stand there looking at Alexi.

"No. It would have broken my heart." Alexi called out after the retreating figure.

Shawn stopped in the doorway but didn't turn around until she felt a touch on her back and Alexi's voice softly added, "I don't want to lose you."

Shawn turned around to face the taller woman and looked up into pleading blue eyes. "You won't lose me, just the opposite. You've just become my family. Can you handle that?"

Alexi wrapped her arms around Shawn and pulled her in closely and softly whispered in her ear. "You'd be surprised at what I can handle to keep you in my arms, and in my life."


On the way into work the next morning they picked up Shawn's car and dropped off Alexi's at the body shop. They decided it would be easier all around if Shawn just stayed at Alexi's for the next few days until things simmered down and the car repair situation was resolved. Arriving at work, Alexi headed to the locker room as Shawn went up to her office. Alexi arrived to find Angel standing in front of Alexi's locker waiting for her.

"Good Morning." Alexi called out cheerfully and waited for Angel to move away from her locker so that she could get her gear stowed. Angel didn't move but stood fidgeting and looking at Alexi.

"What gives?" Alexi was beginning to feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and didn't like it.

"Alexi..." Angel began but was interrupted when the outer door the locker room burst open and Shawn stormed in.

"That bastard!" Shawn exploded.

"You too?" Angel asked causing both women to look at her puzzled.

"What the hell is going on?" Alexi asked looking from Shawn to Angel. Angel moved aside to show both women the outside of Alexi's locker. On the door someone had sprayed in pink paint the word, 'Dyke'.

Alexi moved to open her locker, afraid of what she might find. She was happy that she made it a habit to take her expensive welding gear home each night in her duffel bag. Most of the things she left behind were company issue safety glasses and protective gear. Opening the locker, she breathed a sigh of relief to find everything intact, just the way she had left it. Remembering, Shawn's outburst she turned and looked at the blonde.

"What happened to you?"

"Someone, and I won't mention any names, decided it would be nice that whenever I open a program, I get basically the same message as that." Shawn moved toward the locker pointing at the pink graffiti. "It's going to take me all day to try to go through each program and file to fix them. On top of it all, I've got about six reports that Pete left me to complete because, conveniently, he has taken the day off!"

Alexi slammed her locker door shut causing the other two women to jump. "Damn him! Who the hell does he think he is?"

Before Angel or Shawn could respond the buzzer sounded to signal the start of the line and the two women had to run to get to their stations. Before Alexi ran out of the locker room she grabbed Shawn and kissed her soundly. Shawn's anger diminished greatly as she tired to catch her breath before following the women out the door and up to her office thinking, 'Oh God! The things she does to me!'

Shawn never left the office for lunch or breaks the entire day as she struggled to clear up the mess and get her work done. Angel and Alexi popped their heads in during those times to check on her and bring her food. It was nearly 7 PM before Shawn shut off the computer for the last time and turned to the two women who waited patiently.

"Done! Now did someone mention a drink? Good, because I need one!" Shawn stood up grabbing her bag and heading toward the door, not waiting for the women to reply. Angel and Alexi, quickly scrambled from their perches and followed the determined woman out the door.


Ensconced in the back booth of their favorite eatery, they ordered a pitcher of beer as they waited for their food to arrive. No one said anything until they had almost the entire pitcher emptied. Sitting back sighing contentedly they looked at one another and grins began to pop out on the tired faces.

"I don't know about you two, but I'm exhausted." Shawn rotated her neck trying to get the kinks out, her eyes were red and blurry from staring at her monitor all day.

"Did you get everything resolved?" Alexi asked putting her hand over her mug shaking her head no as Angel refilled glasses. She decided to let Shawn relax and enjoy herself, and she would drive them home.

"Yes, I finally cleared up the hard drive of all the little surprises and finished the reports and backed them up for safe keeping." Shawn took another draw of her mug of beer enjoying how smooth it was going down. If their food didn't arrive soon, she knew it wouldn't be long before she would be feeling the effects of it on her empty stomach.

"What are you guys going to do about Pete?" Angel asked quietly.

"I don't know yet." Alexi replied.

"Even my husband has heard the talk already." Angel offered as the food arrived and ordered another pitcher of beer.

"Jim works on the midnight shift." Alexi explained to Shawn as they began to eat.\par "Is this going to be a problem for you?" Shawn asked Angel, the concern showing on her face.

Angel chuckled and looked at Alexi. "Hell no, Alexi and I go way back. Jim knew about her even before I did." Shawn looked at Alexi surprised and the raven-haired woman just grinned and nodded around a forkful of food.

Angel and Shawn finished two more pitchers of beer and were having a good time laughing hysterically at just about everything. Alexi found them both quite entertaining and stuck with her Mountain Dew and her sobriety.

"Oh no! Look who's here!" Shawn blurted out pointing toward the front door. Alexi and Angel quickly looked over to see Pete come strolling in. He saw the women in the back and hesitated slightly before proceeding toward a group of men and sat at the table with his back to them.

"Well there goes a pleasant evening! What a waste of a good buzz!" Angel replied replied causing Shawn burst into laughter as Alexi watched his arrival cautiously. Pete's back stiffened at the laughter that accompanied his arrival. He wasn't real thrilled with finding the women at his favorite place either and this was just an added insult. Leaning over he informed his buddies about the women in the back booth, and being boys, they all craned their necks to see just who he was talking about. As time wore on, the men got drunker and there comments got louder as Alexi quickly reached her tolerance level.

The final straw came when Shawn got up to go to the bathroom and had to pass near their table. A hand shot out and grabbed the blonde's arm and pulled her over toward the table. Alexi was out of the booth like a shot and pushed back the attacker's chair causing him to land with a thud to the floor.

Unsteadily, Pete stood up to approach Alexi and she pointed her finger at him and hissed, "You don't want to go there!" Pete hesitated for a moment giving Alexi time to grab Shawn and pull her back toward the booth.

"Come on Angel, its time to leave."

Angel didn't hesitate, but nodded and grabbed her bag and moved to follow the two women out of the place. Passing by the group of men they heard the familiar catcalls and Alexi looked over with a killer look and proceeded toward the door.

"Who the hell do they think they are?" Pete asked slightly slurring his speech. "They don't belong in our place. What'ya say we go make sure the ladies get in their car and get out of here?" His prodding got the desired effect and two of the men got up to follow him to the parking lot. They caught up with the women as they were locking Angel's car so that Alexi could drive the women home.

Alexia looked up to see the trio approach them and hurriedly pushed Shawn into the front seat as Angel climbed in the back. She quickly hit the automatic locks and closed the door before turning to face the men.

"We just want to make sure you ladies can find your way out of here." Pete smirked feeling pretty confident about himself. Sometimes, you just have to put women in their place.

"Why don't you and your buddies just go back inside and have another drink." Alexi replied dryly turning back toward the car. She started to motion for Shawn to unlock the door when she felt a hand on her back.

"Hey! I'm not through with you! Don't turn your back on me!" Pete spat out and spun Alexi around to face him.

"Take your damn hand off of me!" Alexi replied, her anger and patience warring for dominance and she could tell, her anger was going to win this one.

"And what are you going to do if I don't?" Pete taunted Alexi and squeezed her shoulder painfully for emphasis. Alexi's fist clenched at her side as she weighed out her options. The other two men behind Pete were just itching for something to happen and she knew that if she took any action, things would escalate out of control. But, she also knew that she couldn't back down, or things would just get worse for Shawn. This time it wasn't just herself she had to think about.

Alexi needed to reason with the men so that things wouldn't get out of hand. "Listen why don't you just let me go and go back inside. Neither of us wants any trouble tonight."

Alexi tried to pull her arm back to release his grip on her shoulder and Pete shoved her back against the car. Alexi heard Shawn call out from inside the car and hoped the blonde wouldn't unlock the door. Regaining her balance she turned her head to look inside the driver's window, and saw Shawn looking out scared, and shook her head no. Alexi felt herself being shoved back against the car again and she knew it was time to make a decision.

"What, you think I'm afraid of you because you're some big bad dyke?" Pete laughed and stood defiantly in Alexi's face. She could smell the alcohol on his breath and it was nauseating and irritating her.

"Well, I'm not the one who brought two friends to back him up!" Alexi's anger finally got the better of her wisdom and her mouth took off running as usual. She bit her tongue, but it was too late to pull back what she had just said. She could see Pete's eyes narrow and his face redden and thought, 'Oh boy, here we go.'


"Is there a problem ma'am?" The officer approached the group, his flashlight shining in Pete's face. Pete stopped in tracks and shielded his eyes looking at the officer. The two that had joined him early had fled back into the bar at the first sight of the squad car, but Pete had been oblivious to anything but his anger at the woman in front of him.

"No problem officer." Pete offered nonchalantly. "We work together."

"Ma'am?" The Officer turned to Alexi with a questioning look to hear her answer.

Alexi looked over at Shawn who had exited the car as soon as she saw the officer approaching them. She turned and looked Pete in the eye and replied, "No problem officer. Pete was just making sure we got to our car safely." Shawn looked at Alexi like she had lost her mind or something and the tall woman just shook her head.

The officer didn't believe any of it and turned to Pete. "Why don't you go join your friends who ran back inside earlier and I'll make sure these women are okay." Pete turned around for the first time to notice that his companions were no where in sight. His face flushed between embarrassment and anger at being abandoned. Alexi chuckled lightly drawing a sneer from Pete before he turned and went back into the bar.

"Okay, now who called 911?"

"I did." Angel's forgotten presence was noted as she stuck her hand out the open window.

"Would you like to step out of the car and tell me what's going on here?"

Alexi looked at Angel curiously as the older woman flashed her cell phone up with a slight grin. Alexi shook her head amused but tried to keep a stoic facade. She really didn't want this to escalate any father than it already had and the last thing they needed was police involvement. She could handle this on her own.

Angel didn't look at Alexi for fear she wouldn't be able to answer the officer truthfully. But Pete's behavior was starting to worry her a lot and she wasn't sure what he was capable of anymore.

"He's been harassing Shawn ever since she started working at Lower Automotives." Angel replied to the officer before turning to Alexi.

"We just can't take the chance anymore that he won't hurt you again or Shawn."

"Again?" The officer inquired looking at Alexi for the first time. He didn't think he's have much success getting anything out of the tall woman, but now she didn't have a choice.

"There was an accident on the line and I got hurt." Alexi answered simply and looked away.

"Damn it Alexi!" Shawn's voice burst over causing the raven-haired woman to look at her in surprise. "This isn't just something that is going to go away. Pete is dangerous and I'm scared."

Alexi looked at Shawn seeing for the first time just how much this was affecting the young woman and instantly regretted her 'I can handle this alone' attitude. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize how you felt. I just didn't want this to get any bigger than it already is." Alexi moved toward Shawn and put her arm around the blonde and hugged her tightly before releasing her and turning back to the officer.

"Okay. He has been harassing Shawn since she started working at the plant because his nephew was passed over in favor of Shawn for the job. The accident on the line was no accident and neither was the oil spill on the stairs that Shawn almost fell down. There have been other incidents of harassment and intimidation too. But, we have no proof so what can you do?"

"For the moment nothing but talk to him." The officer agreed with Alexi, without proof there wasn't much he could do.

"And that, will just cause us more problems." Alexi replied looking over at Shawn and Angel.

"The other thing I can do is make a report on the incident and if something happens at least we will have it on record already." The officer pulled out his book and looked at the women for their approval. Angel and Shawn looked to Alexi for the final say in the matter. Alexi looked around at the waiting trio and sighed, nodding at the officer and they proceeded to give him a detail account of what was happening. Finished he snapped his book shut and turned to Alexi, "Do you want me to talk to him or just let things go for now?"

"Just let things go, if you confront him, he will just take it as a personal challenge and feel the need to answer it. We have we can handle without getting him more worked up. We will have to think of another way." Alexi answered looking up at the officer and saw that he understood and wouldn't force the issue.

"Okay, but call this number anything more happens. I'll follow you out of here just to be safe." The officer gave Alexi a card and turned to get back into his cruiser and waited for the women to get in the car and followed them out of the lot and almost all the way to Angel's house before turning off. Alexi and Shawn dropped Angel off at her house and continued on toward Alexi's.

"What are we going to do now?" Shawn asked quietly and gently squeezed the hand that rested on Alexi's thigh.

"I'm not sure, but we will think of something. There has to be a way to get him to mess up publicly at work."


Shawn sat at her monitor blankly staring at the screen. She was in an exhausted daze and couldn't concentrate on her work. Last night had been a long sleepless night spent tossing and turning, trying not to wake Alexi. Finally, Alexi had reached out and pulled Shawn in and just held her, she had been awake the whole time herself. The two eventually settled down to a light sleep before the alarm went off. Groggy and lost in separate thoughts, neither woman said much as they got ready and went to work.

The outer door opened and Alexi walked in followed by a tall stranger that she had never seen before. Looking up curiously, she waited for Alexi to fill her in on what was going on.

"Shawn, I'd like you to meet Tim. He is a friend of mine from the main office who just happens to be a computer whiz. I think he has a plan what will work for us." Alexi smiled mischievously as she gave Shawn a sly wink.

"Hello". Shawn replied cautiously and waited for the two to sit down near her desk.

"Is it okay to talk here?" Tim asked quietly motioning to the empty desk against the other wall.

"I guess so, I haven't seen Pete all morning."

"If Mickey is right, he hasn't come in today." Alexi answered and pulled her chair closer to Shawn's desk.

"Okay then, do you mind if I sit at your computer?" Tim asked motioning hesitantly toward the swirling pattern of Shawn's screen saver.

"Yeah, might as well for all the work that I am getting done today." Shawn muttered and traded seats with Tim. The latter eagerly produced a disk from his pocket and eagerly set to work on Shawn's PC. After a few moments of silence, except for the rapid clicking of keys, Tim sat back satisfied with himself.

"All set."

"All set what?" Shawn asked hoping he hadn't done something that Pete could use against her.

"I've loaded a program into your system that will monitor every action made to and from your password. If someone so much as does a query to find out what your password is, this program will track him and log not only the time and location of the request, but the ID of the person requesting the information. It's something we've developed at the home office to monitor user involvement in high security jobs we have ongoing."

"And will this information be enough to get Pete?" Alexia asked skeptically. She had hoped that whatever Tim had come up with would do more than just track activity. She wasn't sure what she expected, but she just wanted to get Pete once and for all.

"Well, in and of itself, probably not but\'85.I included it into our security tracking program and will show up on the audit report." Time replied grinning and signed when he saw the unenthusiastic look on the women's faces. Take a breath he added what he thought was another clincher, "This report is a biggie and the CEO has a meeting once a week to go over the results with his staff."

"And?" Alexi asked disappointed with the whole idea.

"And...when it comes up that someone is playing around with someone else's ID, well, lets just say, I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. It's considered a breech of security and grounds for termination."

Shawn looked over at Alexia with a gleam in her eye as both women's faces began to break into grins. "Oh yeah! I like this." Alexi replied Shawn quickly mirrored breaking out into a full smile which.

"Quality Assurance is coming out next week for our second audit to see if the ISO 9000 deficiencies have been clear yet. I guarantee Pete will be active then." Shawn informed the two and rubbed her hands together with glee. "Here I was dreaded next week when I should actually be looking forward to it!"

"That should work out perfect, but in the meantime, backup all your work with copies like you did before and give them to the line supervisor again. Better safe than sorry." Alexi replied as Tim nodded in agreement before asking, "Anything else?"

"Yes, actually there is one more thing I'd like to ask." Alexi replied thoughtfully. Is it possible to leave Pete a message on his computer once we have him trapped?"

"Sure, there is a way to do just about anything. I can write some code that will be activated as soon as, let's say, he accesses Shawn's ID for the third time." Tim replied enthusiastically. "What would you like to have it say?"

"Oh, I know exactly what I want it to say." Alexi replied and leaned in to tell the programmer and Shawn's grin widened as she listened to what Alexi had in mind.


As the week progressed, Shawn barely tolerated Pete's attitude. Just knowing what was going to happen next week gave her the ability to smile in the face of his insults. But, by the time she was in no mood for what waited for her at her apartment. She had blatantly ignored the messages from her mother on her answering machine, but she couldn't ignore the presence of the woman on her doorstep.

"Mother, what are you doing here?" Shawn asked as she approached to unlock the outer door to her building.

"Well, since you won't answer any of my phone calls, what choice did I have but to come over in person."

"Mother, it's been a long week and I'm really not in the mood to argue with you." Shawn replied as she pushed open the door and held it for her mother to go first. She knew that she had no choice but to let her in and began to climb the stairs feeling even more tired then she had when she left work. 'Gee could it be the company?'<\i> Shawn thought sarcastically to herself as she unlocked her apartment door and invited her mother inside.

"Shawn, I have to say that I was disappointed that you would include that woman in your talk with Rev. Thomas." Her mother started in before Shawn could close the door behind her.

"Well mother, I didn't appreciate your inviting Rev. Thomas to come over here to talk to me. If I had something to discuss with him, I would have called him." Shawn was tired, hungry and quickly loosing her patience. It was a good thing that Alexi hadn't come home with her this evening. She had debated coming over, but decided that they both needed some rest and Shawn needed to get a few things for the weekend. Shawn suggested she go home and pack a bag and drive over to Alexi's later.

"I'm your mother, I have ever right to try to stop you from destroying your life." Her mother replied indignantly and walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. "What do you want me to fix you for dinner?"

"You don't have to. I'm eating later at Alexia's." Shawn replied and instantly regretted mentioning it when she saw her mother's face scowl in disapproval.

"Are you doing this intentionally to hurt me?"

"Mother, I'm sorry but not everything revolves around you. I am your child, but I am no longer a child." Shawn replied and closed the refrigerator door.

The older woman threw her hands up in mock despair and walked out into the living room with a curt reply. "What do you expect me to do, just sit by quietly while you destroy your life? Well, I won't have it!"

"I'm sorry you feel this way Mother, because it isn't your choice, it's mine." Shawn knew she was hurting her mother and looked away from the woman's stare waiting in the uncomfortable silence that followed.

"Well, then I guess you will have to pay the consequences for your actions too." Her mother quietly replied and picked up her purse and walked to the door. Shawn stood surprised at the turn of her mother's reasoning and with a tightening her chest she watched her mother leave.

Opening the door, the older woman hesitated and turned back to her daughter. "If you insist on destroying this family then know that she will never be welcome in our home and neither will you if try to make her a part of this family."

In silence Shawn watched as her mother tearfully left the apartment and then turned and walked to the bedroom, falling across the bed she burst into tears of her own. Shawn wasn't sure what she cried for more, the loss of her family, or the overwhelming sense of failure she felt at the moment. In the end, she just cried and didn't stop until she fell into an exhausted sleep.

Alexi let herself into the darkened apartment, grateful that Shawn had given her a key. Repeated telephone calls went unanswered and she was beside herself with worry. Looking around she saw evidence that Shawn had been there, her backpack she carried to work lay on the kitchen table and she almost tripped on Shawn's shoes that lay where she had discarded them. Shawn had a habit of slipping out of her shoes a soon as she came in the door and Alexi would have laughed this familiarity, if she wasn't so worried right now. She threw her keys on the table and proceeded down the hall to the bedroom. Turning the corner she let out a relieved breath when she made out the dim outline of the figure sleeping on the bed. Easing her shoes off, she climbed next to her and pulled her into her arms and held the sleeping woman until her racing heart began to slow down and she could begin to breath normally again.

Shawn felt a presence and a familiar touch as she teetered in the haze that lay between the twilight and awakening. She smiled as her senses took in the familiar scent and touch.

Alexi watched as Shawn's eyes fluttered and then peeked open as a smile spread across her face.

"Hey." The sleepy woman murmured burrowing her body closer to her lover.

"Hey yourself, what happened?" Alexi whispered in the darkened room.

"Guess I fell asleep." Shawn replied stifling a yawn and turning to look at the alarm clock. "What time is it?"

Alexi stopped her and held her tighter. "It doesn't matter, I was just worried. Do we need to talk about something?"

"My mother was waiting here when I got home." Shawn replied quietly and hesitated a moment before looking fully into Alexi's blue eyes. She could faintly see the light reflecting in the blue that she loved so much. "I guess you could say that I've been cut off from the family."

"Is it final?"

"As far as I'm concerned it is."

"I'm sorry." Alexi softly replied and kissed Shawn lightly and hesitated, she knew she needed to ask, but fear kept her from jumping to the question. "Are you sure you want to make the sacrifice?"

"I don't see it as a sacrifice. I see it as a question of love. If they loved me one tenth as much as I do you, she wouldn't have made the ultimatum." Shawn replied sincerely and kissed Alexi back showing her how much she meant it.

"I think it's time you meet my family since they are going to be your family too now." Alexi offered hoping that Shawn wouldn't balk at the idea. Instead, Alexi saw the start of a tear drop down onto Shawn's cheek and wiped it away. "I know they are going to love you as much as I do."



"You've never said much about them. So they accept you?" Shawn asked nervous and yet curious about this new family she would be meeting.

"Yes, at first it was rough when I came out. I was only 15 years old, but eventually they came to understand, and now they love me and will accept whomever I chose to love." Alexi replied smiling and snuggling closer to Shawn. "I definitely think a road trip is in order soon. We could go for a long weekend and stay with my parents and visit with my sister, and I could show you where I grew up. Would that be okay?" Alexi asked and pulled back to see the blonde's response. She didn't want to push to hard right now with everything that had been happening. It seemed like things had moved very fast, but yet, they felt right on time.

"Sure, I'm up for a road trip." Shawn replied and lay her had on Alexi's chest comfortable in their closeness. She loved her connection with Alexi and the sensations she felt when they were together. Sex was nice but it was the sense of belonging and the true connection to another individual that Shawn loved the most.


Alexi awoke to find herself alone in bed and listened for signs of Shawn's whereabouts. Hearing nothing, she got up and padded sleepily into the living room. Smelling the scent of freshly brewed coffee, she continued into the kitchen and poured herself a mug. Sipping the hot brew she proceeded to search for Shawn, finally finding her out on the balcony. Looking out at her she knew that Shawn was still having trouble dealing with her mother's visit. Shawn sat with her feet up on the railing, tightly holding her arms around her legs and her face resting against her bent knees. The only part of her face showing, were her green eyes that stared blankly at some unknown horizon. Alexi slipped quietly out the sliding door, set her mug down on the wood railing and approached the thinking woman. She stood behind Shawn and wrapped her long arms around the tight bundle and kissed the side of her head.

"You okay?" Alexi whispered softly into Shawn's ear and felt the shudder that passed through the shorter woman.

Shawn laced her fingers with the ones that lay over her own and sighed at the feelings this woman could evoke in her. She relaxed her grip on her legs and leaned back into the taller woman behind her, trying to absorb the strength she felt emminating from her. Alexi always felt so much in control and Shawn needed that feeling right now. She felt like her world was moving too fast and the only steady place she had was Alexi. One touch and she was grounded again.

Alexi wondered if the blonde hadn't heard her and repeated herself.

"Hey, you okay?"

"I am now." The words slipped past Shawn's lips without so much as a thought about them and she smiled at how true they were. As long as she had this love, what more would she need.

"You sure?"

"Oh yeah!" Shawn purred and snuggled against the arms that held her securely. "Although, I could use some coffee. I made a fresh pot."

"Got you covered." Alexi replied and reached over to retrieve her mug and handed it to Shawn. Shawn took a sip and smiled and handed it back to Alexi so she could stand up. Turning, she wrapped herself around the tall woman and stood breathing in the scent of her lover as they shared the coffee and watched the day awaken.

When the mug was drained, Alexi led Shawn back into the house and filling the mug again, she drew the shorter woman back into the bedroom. They lay in the big bed sharing the coffee, cuddling in each others arms and talking. After awhile, they drew quiet in silent reflection and Shawn's thoughts went to the lyrics of a song that she began to hum softly.

"What's that?" Alexi asked softly placing kisses against Shawn's temple.

"A song, I can't get out of my head." Shawn answered and softly repeated the words.

"Lying here with you..Smiling just to see the smile upon your face.

These are the moments I thank God that I'm alive. These are the Moments I'll remember all my life.

I found all I've waited for and I could not ask for more.

Looking in your eyes. Seeing all I need.

Everything you are is everything to me.

These are the moments I know heaven must exist.

These are the moments I know all I need is this.

I have all I've waited for and I could not ask for more.

I could not ask for more than this time together with you.

Every prayer has been answered. Every dream I have's come true.

These are the moments I thank God I'm alive.

These are the moments I'll remember all my life.

I've got all I've waited for and I could not ask for more,

than the love you give me.

Coz it's all I've waited for and I could not ask for more."

"I like that song." Alexi replied when Shawn was finished. "It says a lot."

"Yes, it certainly does." Shawn's answer left little for Alexi to wonder and she leaned down to kiss her lover in reply.

"So, what do you want to do today?" Alexi asked wiggling down to look into Shawn's eyes.

"This isn't such a bad thing." Shawn smiled kissing the tip of Alexi's nose.

"No, it isn't is it." Alexi pulled Shawn into her arms and kissed her lover long and deep. They spend the morning in gentle exploration of each other and their relationship. It was afternoon before either women stirred from the bedroom. The rest of the weekend was spent in such relaxed leisure as both women geared up for the coming week.

Shawn hesitated for a moment in the parking lot. She was dreading the events of the coming week. She closed her eyes in silent prayer for the strength to see things through. Shawn opened her eyes when she felt a warm gently touch on her back and smiled up into blue eyes, whose color put the best summer sky to shame.

"You ready?" Closing her eyes again, Shawn stood silently letting Alexi's silky voice soak into her memory like a mantle to protect her through the coming storm. Feeling a slight squeeze on her waist he opened her eyes. "Hey?"

"Oh yeah, I'm fine, just gathering my wits for the coming battle." Shawn smiled up into slightly concerned eyes and pulled Alexi's hand into her own and walked through the parking lot. They mutually let their hands drop when they came to the last row of cars and continued to the plant side by side. Parting at the locker room entrance, Alexi winked at Shane, who wiggled her eyebrows in reply. She was instantly rewarded with a deep throaty chuckle as Alexi disappeared through the door. Shawn smiled widely as she proceeded up the stairs and into the office.

"What are you smiling about, all well in dykeville?" Pete's nasal voice instantly shattered the peace that Shawn was feeling and the smile dropped to a grimace and she turned away from him and sat at her desk without responding. 'I'm just going to do my work and ignore him and maybe he will just go away! Yeah, fat chance of that happening!'<\i> Shawn shoulders dropped and she pulled the stack of SWI's in front of her and began to check them one last time. The auditors were due in at 10 am and she wanted to make sure she had all her bases covered. She heard Pete continued to mumble under his breath behind her and she continued to ignore him until he stood next to her desk learing down at her.

"I forgot to tell you, I asked the head office to send over a representative for our QA audit today. I wanted to make sure all your screw-ups get documented right this time. Your outta here after this week." Pete grinned viciously and turned and left the office. Shawn let out the breath she has unconsciously been holding and looked at the close door hoping that Tim's plan worked. Shawn looked down at her shaking hands and angrily threw her pencil at the closed door. She hated that Pete could rattle her so easily. Taking deep breaths she calmed herself and went back to her work.

Shawn spent a hectic day following the auditors around and answering their preliminary questions. She found the representative from the head office to be quiet and watchful of the events unfolding. She wasn't sure what to make of him, but Pete seemed to enjoy talking with him on the side making Shawn wonder if they were personal friends.

By the end of the day, she had adverted two minor crises due to the fact that she had left backup copies of her work with the line supervisors. Pete made it his duty to point out all her errors to everyone, but was frustrated when he couldn't get blame for the two crises pointed directly at her. His parting comments to Shawn were, "this isn't over yet."

By the time Shawn met Alexi at the door she was exhausted mentally and physically and Alexi didn't say much as they walked to the car. Getting into the car she pulled Shawn into her arms and hugged her for a few moments before starting the car and heading home. She didn't ask Shawn if she wanted to go back to her apartment, she just took her home and let her rest while she fixed dinner. They ate in front of the television. Alexi could sense that Shawn wasn't in the mood for conversation and kept things light. By the time they finished cleaning up, Shawn was yawning widely and Alexi just pushed her toward the bedroom and pursuaded her to bed. By the time Alexi joined her, Shawn was sound asleep and Alexi curled up behind her and shortly joined her in the twilight of sleep.


By Wednesday, everything started to fall apart. Alexi had called Tim the previous day but had not heard from him and repeated attempts remained unanswered. Pete had somehow circumvented Shawn's back-up copies in the computer and to some of the line supervisors who were at the bar with him the other night. Frustrated and angry, Shawn had lost control more than once which hadn't helped her situation. The auditors and company representative were becoming quiet and solemn in their assessment.

By the end of the day, Shawn had basically given up any hope of salvaging her job and just went back to the office early and collected her things and waited in Alexi's car. Alexi arrived after her shift ended to find Shawn sitting in the back seat with a box on her lap in tears. Climbing in beside her she took the box and put it on the opposite seat and pulled the distraught woman into her arms.

"What do I do now?" Shawn looked up with fresh tears on her cheeks. "He's covered every angle and turned everything the opposite way. Where is Tim?"

"I don't know. I've been trying to reach him, but I don't get any answers. I've left ten messages!" Alexi was equally as frustrated as Shawn, but she also knew what this job meant to the blonde. It meant her independence and self-worth. She had taken a chance when she took this job, to the displeasure of her family. Then she had basically lost her family and now she was faced with losing her job and proving her family right in their eyes.

"If I have to, tomorrow I'll drive to headquarters and search until I find him and get some answers. Let's go home." Alexi replied and pulled Shawn out of the backseat and put her in the front. Getting behind the wheel she headed the car out of the parking lot. Slowing at the end of the aisle she was startled when Pete stepped out in front of her car with a malicious grin on his face and he blew Shawn a kiss and mouthed "bye-bye".

Alexi saw red and shouted, "Bite me!" and hit the gas pedal steering the car toward Pete who began to run in response to her actions. Shawn grabbed the wheel shouting, "NO!"


Alexi gunned the engine and the car lurched forward in Pete's direction. Pete's smile turned into terror as he turned and began running. Alexi slammed on the brake and tried not to laugh at the spectacle of the man running for his life. Looking over at Shawn sheepishly she shrugged her shoulders. "Hell, I was just having fun with him."

Pete jumped on the nearest car hood and an alarm began to blare causing him to scramble back down off the car as if the hounds of hell were chasing him. This was where Shawn couldn't contain herself anymore and lost it. She looked out the open window at Pete as he stood next to the blaring car with a look of terror and shock and his chest rose in fell rapidly.

Shawn held her side as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Catching her breath she voiced her fears. "We're are going to pay for this one."


"I love you for it though, thank you." Shawn replied wiping the tears off her cheeks and leaning over gave Alexi a deep kiss in front of Pete and anyone else who cared to watch.

Thursday morning broke bright and the air was light and fresh until they walked into the plant. The stillness and oppression could almost be felt as the women came face to face with two police officers and Pete standing next to them smiling.

"You are going to get yours now bitch!" Pete snarled as he pointed out Alexi to the officers. The one officer was from the bar parking lot last week and he looked apologetically at the tall woman.

"That's enough!" The officer pushed past Pete and approached the women. "Remember me, I'm Officer Dunn."

Alexi nodded her head yes, but didn't say anything and reached out to lightly touch Shawn as the blonde instinctively moved closer.

"I'm sorry, but Mr. Knight filed an assault complaint against you. He said you tried to run him down with your car yesterday." The other officer just stood by and let his partner handle the situation. To be honest, he wasn't thrilled with the complainant, he found him to be quite obnoxious, but they had to investigate all complaints.

"So far we've been unable to come up with any witnesses, so we want to hear your side of the story. Let's go upstairs into the office where we can talk quietly." The Officers followed the women and Pete up the stairs.

"Just ask Mickey, he saw the whole thing!" Pete replied sharply as they all gathered and settled into seats.

Officer Dunn motioned to his partner and said, "Why don't you go see if you can find this Mickey....?"

"Thompson." Pete supplied the answer quickly and gave Alexi a triumphant look. Alexi didn't respond but just looked back at the Officer.

"Okay, in the meantime, why don't you tell me exactly what happened." Officer Dunn turned toward Alexi as he leaned against Shawn's desk.

"She tried to run me over...I told you that!" Pete exploded and threw his hands up in the air exasperated. Mickey will tell you the same thing. She's crazy and needs to be locked up!"

"Mr. Knight, please sit down and let me handle this." Officer Dunn turned a look on Pete that caused him to sit down mumbling under his breath.

"Now, go ahead."

"There is nothing to tell we were driving through the parking lot when Pete jumped out in front of my car and startled us. I hit the gas by accident, but quickly hit the break before coming anywhere near him. Can I help it if he panicked and began jumping all over the cars in the lot?" Alexi replied drolly keeping a straight face and looking at the officer in all innocence.

Officer Dunn almost chuckled at her description of the events, but looked down into his book and jotted some notes to regain his composure. He could see the blonde look away with a slight grin and knew that the story was less than an accurate account.

"That's bullshit!" Pete replied amazed that the officer hadn't seen through her lies. "She almost hit me!"

"Well, Mr. Knight, it seems I'm getting two different stories here. Why don't we wait for my partner to find Mr. Thompson and then and see if we can't sort all this out." Officer Dunn looked up at the sound of footsteps on the stairs and added, "Here they are now."

His partner led in the slight man who looked around curiously at the group assembled in the office. Officer Dunn motioned for him to have a seat in the last vacant chair.

"Mr. Thompson, I'm Officer Dunn and this is my partner Officer Reynolds. Mr. Knight informed us that you were a witness to the incident last night in the parking lot after the shift ended. I'd like to hear your story, without interruption from anyone else." Dunn looked pointedly at Pete who balked at the reprimand.

"What incident?" Mickey asked cautiously and maintained his air of confusion.

"Between Mr. Knight and Ms. Morgan." The officer simply answered. He wanted to hear the story without first hand without any cohersion.

"I didn't see any incident. I walked to my car and left. That's all I know." Mickey replied with a twinkle in his eye when he looked at Alexi.

"You liar! I heard you laughing!" Pete replied standing up indignantly and not realizing what he had just divulged.

Shawn began to giggle, quickly causing Alexi and Mickey to grin. Officer Dunn maintained his stoic facade, he was beginning to tired of the whole show.

"Mr. Thompson are you sure you didn't see anything?"


"Well, than thank your for your time." Officer Dunn replied and his partner opened the door for Mickey to leave. He turned to the group assembled and tired to resolve the situation without adding more senseless paperwork. He knew that this arrest would never hold and it would just be more work for himself.

"I'm sorry Mr. Knight, but I don't see any reason to detain Ms. Morgan. If you want to press formal charges then I suggest you go down to the precinct and fill out the necessary forms." Officer Dunn looked at the angry man and knew that he was just a problem waiting to happen. "If you want my honest opinion, I suggest you forget this whole thing and the two of you find something other than each other to occupy your time with."

"So, that's it? You aren't going to arrest her?" Pete stood up and pushed his chair back violently causing the two officers to snap to attention. "This is utter bullshit!"

"I suggest you calm down or you will be the one we will be taking in!" Officer Reynold's threatened reaching for his handcuffs.

Pete stopped in his tracks and glared at the officers in disbelief. "I don't believe this! She tries to run me down with her car and you're not doing anything about it!"

"Like I said before, if you want to press charges you can go down to the precinct and do so, but there is nothing I can do." Officer Dunn concluded and snapped his notebook shut.

"Fine, never mind. I'll handle this myself!" Pete spun around on his heels and headed for the office door and stopped only when Dunn called him back.


"I wouldn't do anything stupid if I were you, like make a threat in front of an officer." Dunn stared at Pete seriously and waited until the angry man broke eye contact before turning to Alexi. Pete turned back to the door and wrenched it open and stormed down the stairs without another word.

"My suggestion to you two is to try to steer clear of him until he cools down." Dunn and his partner moved toward the door and he turned back to Alexi before leaving. "And, be care more careful driving in the parking lot, okay?"

Alexi nodded as a slight grin crept across her lips as she and Shawn stood up.

"But, If you need us, don't hesitate to call."

Alexi and Shawn stood quietly watching the officers' leave before Shawn approached Alexi and put her arms around her from behind.

"This is getting way out of hand."

"Yeah, I know." Alexi clasped her hands over the arms that held her and squeezed. She wasn't sure what Pete would do next, but she knew she needed to get a hold of Tim soon.

"Well, I'm late. I was suppose to meet the audit team down near the front end line twenty minutes ago." Shawn gave Alexi's waist one last squeeze and moved to leave.

Alexi caught her hand and pulled her into her arms for a kiss. "Be careful."

"You too!" Opening the door Shawn proceeded Alexi down the stairs and hurried to her meeting. She wondered if Pete would be there or if he had taken off. She really hoped it would be the latter.

Alexi made her way to her station and relieved the floater who had filled in for her. Angel looked up curiously and Alexi shrugged her shoulders and mouthed 'later'. Angel nodded in comprehension and went back to her task. Alexi immersed herself in her work as her mind ticked off their possible alternatives. And finally decided that, at the moment, everything hinged on Tim coming through for them.


By lunchtime, Pete's blatant hatred was beginning to rub off on the auditors and they began to snap at Shawn about everything, even things that were not in her realm of control. Once again, she was ready to pack her things up and leave, certain that she wouldn't have a job much longer. She had done all she could to safe guard her work, but each and every time, Pete had found a way to circumvent her actions and make all her data inaccurate and non-compliant. She was quickly resigning herself to failure.

By evening, Shawn did everything she could just to drag herself to the car and slept as Alexi drove home. Alexi didn't even both to ask Shawn which home anymore and just took her to her place. She led the sleepy woman into the bedroom and put her to bed. Heading to the kitchen, she grabbed a snack and picked up the telephone. For the sixth time that day, she left an urgent message for Tim. 'Where the hell is he?'<\i> Alexi thought angrily and slammed down the receiver. She went into the living room and flipped on the television. After channel surfing for about an hour she closed the television and gave up waiting for a return call and went to take a shower and try to relax. After her shower, she went to check her answering machine and the counter still read 0. Sitting in the darkening living room she worked on a solution in her head. After a couple of hours, she succeeded in giving herself a headache and no solution other than Shawn should quit and move in with her and look for something else. Feeling like she had lost the race, she finally crawled into bed next to Shawn and curled her long body around the slumbering woman.

That night, sleeping with the small woman was like sleeping in a rocking boat. Just as she would start to fall asleep, Shawn would either jerk in a nightmare or cry out. Finally, Alexi lay in the dark holding her tightly and thinking about all the kinds of bodily harm she could inflict on Pete.

Friday morning found neither woman rested as they quietly stumbled around in an attempt to get ready for work. Dressed, Alexi crawled back onto the bed to rest until it was time to leave.

"Come on we are going to be late." Shawn tugged on Alexi's arm in an attempt to get her moving.

"Who cares!" Alexi murmured sleepily and rolled over.

"I still care." Shawn answered and stood looking down over the reclining woman. Alexi cracked open an eyelid and looked at the face above her and saw a need to be strong reflecting from the tired eyes. Alexi quickly got up and pulled her lover into her arms. "So do I!" She kissed Shawn intently and held her tightly before breaking the embrace and pulling the smaller woman toward the front door.

Friday with the auditors and Pete went no better than the day before. Alexi watched as they walked up and down the line and her anger rose steadily each time they past her work station. She continually watched Pete berate Shawn in front of the Auditors who didn't seem to mind it at all, and each time Shawn took the abuse silently. Frustrated and angry, Alexi became angry with not only the men, but Shawn too for letting them get away with everything and not standing up for herself. By the time lunch break came, Alexi was on a low steady boil and just about anything could, and probably would, send her over the top. She boldly walked toward the office and was at the base of the stairs when Pete came bounding down whistling happily. He gave Alexi a satisfied look and continued on his way.

"Asshole!" Alexi said just loud enough for Pete to catch it and continued on up the stairs. Alexi walked in to the office without knocking and found Shawn in tears at her desk. That was about all Alexi needed and her demeanor broke. "That bastard! Enough! Get your things together and I will take you home. You don't need to work under these conditions. " Alexi stormed in and began looking for an empty box for Shawn.


"You've taken enough crap from him. I know you can do better than this job!" Alexi answered and removed the reams of copy paper out of a box and brought it to Shawn. "You can stay with me and look for a better job."

"Absolutely not!" Shawn's voice rose several octaves and she pushed the box off her desk. "I've worked too hard to get where I am at to just walk away now." Shawn was amazed that Alexi would even consider her doing something like this, let alone almost demand that she do it. 'She of all people I thought understood how much this means to me.'<\i> Shawn thought angrily.

"You will find something better." Alexi replied and stooped to pick up the box. She didn't understand why Shawn would want to continually put herself through this torment. She couldn't stand to see the woman such constant turmoil.

"You are sounding just like Pete now, telling me what to do." Shawn threw out at Alexi and folded her hands across her chest in refusal of the box being thrust at her.

" Pete? Hey, I'm not the one that was letting everyone run all over me out there and then stand in here crying about it." Alexi threw back defensively. She knew she shouldn't have said it in such a way, but she was angry that Shawn would equate her caring with that asshole, Pete.

"Listen, I don't anyone telling me how to live my life. I've had enough of that from my mother, I don't need it from you too." Shawn snapped her words out and achieved the stinging affect that she had wanted. She was angry and Alexi was pushing all her buttons at the moment. Maybe later she would regret her actions, but right now, she was livid and didn't want to be bullied anymore by anyone, especially not Alexi.

Alexi looked at the blonde in hurt shock and finally replied, "Fine! I won't say another word. You do whatever the hell you want. You live your life and I'll live mine." With those parting works Alexi turned and left the office and headed straight out the bay doors to the picnic tables. She walked up to Angel who was sitting eating her lunch and waiting for her two friends to join her. Without looking up she commented, "It's about damn time." There was no smart reply and Angel could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and she looked up worried to face a very upset and barely contained woman.

"Hey, what's going on?"

"Angel, I can't talk right now. I'll explain later. I'm taking a few days off. Do me a favor and give Shawn a ride home tonight after shift. To HER home." Alexi barely looked at Angel and kept her focus on the cars in the parking lot. She wasn't in the mood to discuss anything right now and she knew that if she looked at her friend she would lose her resolve.

"Well, sure, but you're worrying me. What happened?" Angel replied haltingly. She had never seen the raven-haired woman in this state. She didn't think she had ever seen anything both Alexi enough to betray her emotions, and the emotions that were flashing across Alexi's face right now, were strong ones indeed.

"I'll explain later." Alexi turned and walked stiffly toward her car and got in. Slamming her hands on the steering wheel she shouted, "Damn it!" as the tears began to fill up her eyes. Quickly starting up the car, she squealed the tires as she raced the car out of the parking lot and down the road. She wasn't sure where she was headed, she just knew she needed to get away for awhile. Finally, she decided she would take that trip home, alone and turned toward her place to pack a bag.


By the time Shawn had calmed down and realized what had just happened, she went in search of Alexi to apologize. She went outside to find Angel sitting at the picnic table by herself and approached the woman.

"Have you seen Alexi?"

"Shawn! Uh, yeah....about 20 minutes ago she came storming through here and left in her car. She asked me to give you a ride home tonight. What the hell is going on?!" Angel pulled Shawn to sit down on the bench next to her and wasn't letting the blonde go until someone did some explaining. She had been sitting here steadily worrying about Alexi and was driving herself crazy.

"We had a fight upstairs. I was so angry and I took offense to what she was saying and I said some things that I shouldn't have. I thought she was trying to control me just like everyone else. I didn't realize until too late that she cared and was just trying to help."

Shawn explained to the older woman and felt the tears renewing in her eyes. "I think I pushed her away for good."

"Well, I don't think I've ever seen Alexi so upset before, but I don't think you've pushed her away for good. I don't think she would have been that upset, if it didn't matter or it was over in her eyes. I think you two are very much on, you just have to talk this one out." Angel replied and put her arm around Shawn's shoulders for moral support.

"Why don't we just run by her place after work, everyone will have calmed down by then, and you two can talk."

"Do you think she will want to see me?" Shawn was hesitant in her question, she still remembered the look on Alexi's face when she left the office. It had been that look that had started Shawn on her realization of what she has just done.

"Yes, I do. Have you eaten anything today?" Angel dug through her lunch cooler and pushed some cracker and fruit toward Shawn. "Eat!"

Shawn didn't feel like fighting the woman and began to nibble on the apple. During the rest of the lunch break Shawn listed as Angel told her things about Alexi that she hadn't known. She told her things in Alexi's past and about how the last two people in her life had hurt her deeply. Shawn was beginning to understand the walls that Alexi had built and how she had let them down to allow Shawn to get close to her. She also realized how she had betrayed that new trust and had hurt Alexi. When the break was over, Shawn slowly walked back to her office, she really didn't care what happened that afternoon, she just wanted to see Alexi and apologize and make up for being such a fool. Even Pete's barbed comments and accusations didn't affect Shawn the rest of that afternoon and even before the shift ended, the blonde was outside waiting for Angel.

Alexi arrived at her apartment and quickly packed a bag, and hesitated before calling Angel and leaving a message. In about three hours she would be home and she could think clearly. All the way down her mind kept drifting back to Shawn and the pain in her chest increased. She knew she hadn't handled it in the best of fashions, but she didn't deserve the things Shawn had said to her. Pitting her with Shawn's mother had really hurt her. She was nothing like that woman. She had cared about Shawn and wanted to help her. She didn't want to control and abuse her like her mother had. 'There is a big difference there and if she can't see then so be it!'<\i> Alexi concluded and turned on the radio to clear her head of all thoughts.

Angel put the car in park and looked over at Shawn. The blonde sat with her hand hesitantly on the door handle biting her bottom lip in worry. Reaching over she placed her hand on Shawn's arm to gain her attention. The woman had been silently withdrawn into her own thoughts the entire trip over.

"It's going to be okay. Just go up there and talk to the woman. I know Alexi cares a lot about you. I've seen a big change in her since you and she got together. It's a good change. I don't think I've ever seen her so happy or content before. She's always been jovial and vocal before, but it is different now. I can see it and so can everyone else. This is worth working out. Now, go to her." Angel prodded and pushed Shawn toward the door. Shawn opened the car door and got out, but before closing the door she stuck her head in and asked, "Will you wait to make sure. I'll give you a sign if it's okay. If not, I won't have a way home and my car is at my apartment."

"Yes, I'll wait for you. Just step out onto the porch and wave and I'll know it's okay to leave."

Shawn nodded and closed the door and walked slowly toward Alexi's condo. Shawn knocked on the door and waited. Receiving no answer she scanned the parking lot and noticed that Alexi's car was not there. Using her key, she entered the quiet condo and called out. "Alexi?" She wasn't sure if the woman would be happy seeing her just walk into her home, but she had no choice. Walking to the bedroom, Shawn noted that a couple of the drawers were pulled out and there was clothing lying on the bed. Shawn also knew that Alexi was fussy about handing things up and straightening. She opened the closet and saw the empty hangers and looked up to see Alexi's travel bag was missing.

"Where did you go?" Shawn talked outloud to the empty house. She wasn't sure why she expected a response, but added, "You didn't even tell me you were leaving." Swallowing back fresh tears, she left the condo and headed back toward the car. Angel watched with concern when she saw the stooped shoulder woman rapidly walking toward the car.

"Oh my friend, what have you done?" She murmured worriedly as Shawn got into the car and looked over at her, the pain and tears evident in her eyes.

"She's gone. She left and didn't leave a note." Shawn blurted out and sat staring at Angel for some kind of answer.

"Are you sure she went somewhere?" Angel asked quickly remembering Alexi's comment about taking a few days off.

"Yes, her travel bag is missing and some clothes are gone." Shawn answered sadly. "Where did she go?" Shawn felt an overwhelming need to find Alexi and explain.

"I'm not sure." Angel replied thinking about anything Alexi might have said in the past to give her a clue as to her whereabouts. 'Where would you go if you were really hurting my friend?'<\i> Angel thought long and hard and still couldn't come up with a solid answer for Shawn and tried to get the quiet woman to come home with her, but Shawn had wanted to be at home in case Alexi called.

Shawn's stomach growled and she realized that an apple all day just didn't cut it and she headed into the kitchen to look for something to eat. Nothing in the refrigerator really interested her and she didn't feel like cooking so she just grabbed some cheese and headed into the living room. Flipping on the TV, she sat on the couch and nibbled on her cheese. When the telephone rang, Shawn almost threw her piece of cheese across the room. Running she picked up the phone and almost barked her hello.

"Hey, slow down, it's only me Angel." The voice chuckled over the line to Shawn.

"Sorry, I've been sitting here willing the phone to ring and when it did, it just about scared the pants off me!" Shawn replied lightly.

"Well, I just got home and there was a message from Alexi on my machine. It seems like she went home for a visit for a few days. She will be back at work Monday. Angel waited for a response from the other end and knew that Shawn was thinking, 'why didn't she say anything to me.'

"Oh, okay." Shawn replied trying to think of something more to say.

Angel could hear the disappointment with the young woman's voice and she went out on a limb and replied, "Hey, she will be back Sunday afternoon if I know her. You could can talk with her then and get this all resolved. But, listen to me. You have to talk to her because if you both wait for the other to say something first, too much time pass and you will both will end up losing. I can promise you that. Okay?"

"I'll have to think about it."

"You had better do more than just think about it, if you want this relationship to work." Angel replied.

"Yeah, thanks for the ride home and for calling to let me know where Alexi went. I'll see you on Monday." Shawn rang off and hung up the receiver and looked down to see what she had done to the piece of cheese she had been holding. She threw the squashed mess in the garbage in disgust. Washing her hands, she went into the bedroom and without even changing crawled into bed and waited for sleep to come.


Alexi received her own surprise when she arrived at her parents' house to find they had gone to visit her brother for a couple of weeks. She called her brother's to let them know that she was at the house for the weekend. They talked for awhile saddened that they had missed her, but she promised to come back another time when there were going to be home. Alexi hung up the phone and thought, 'serves me right for not calling first. Oh well, I still needed to get away to think and it's definitely more peaceful here.'<\i> Alexi looked out the back door at the woods she had grown up in and promised herself that tomorrow, bright and early, she would go for a nice hike through the woods and just relax and commune with nature.

The next morning Alexi did exactly that and went for a long walk through the woods as far as the stream and sat down to rest. She leaned back against a sun warmed stone and closed her eyes, sighing at the peace that surrounded her. The sound of the water rippling over the smooth stones was calming and her thoughts drifted back to Shawn and their fight. Alexi felt that she had been hurt by the woman, but was also beginning to understand that maybe she had come off a little too strongly. One thing was certain, they needed to talk and to see where they stood with each other. Alexi was willing to give Shawn the benefit of the doubt, but if she really felt that Alexi was trying to control her, then there wasn't going to be a future for the two of them. 'I care about her, I don't want to own her.'<\i> Alexi thought to herself and if Shawn didn't see the difference, then they didn't have much to go on in their relationship. She knew they needed to talk. 'Running away wasn't the smartest thing I could have done, but saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment would have been the end for sure.'<\i>

Shawn spent the weekend thinking about Alexi and by Sunday afternoon she had decided that she had overreacted to what Alexi was saying, but yet, she still needed Alexi to understand her decision for independence with this job. She needed to be the one to make the decisions regarding her future at the plant. Finally, Shawn just got in the car and headed to Alexi's place. As she pulled into the parking lot she saw that Alexi's car was still not there. Shawn hesitated going into the house again, instead she sat down on the steps leading up to the unit. Closing her eyes she leaned back against the railing and let the warming sun's rays chase away the chill she felt. She didn't know how long she sat, but after awhile, she shivered from the sudden departure of the sun's warmth and blinked opened her eyes to see the familiar figure that blocked it.

"Hey." Shawn's greeting was soft and hesitant. She wasn't sure what to expect from Alexi right now.

"Hey, what are you doing out here?" Alexi asked keeping her voice an even timbre, which belied the rapid beating of her heart. She had seen the blonde as soon as she pulled into the driveway and her heart leaped in her chest in recognition.

"I came to see talk to you." Shawn felt like child waiting to be punished for their recent behavior.

"Why didn't you wait inside?" Alexi felt her heart sink a little at the thought that maybe Shawn had come to say good-bye and didn't want to go inside. Inside the home that, two days ago, she had wanted to share with her on a more permanent basis.

Shawn looked down at her hands and mumbled her reply. "I wasn't sure you would want me to."

Alexi had to strain to hear the blonde's reply, but when she did she felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and reached down to lift up Shawn's chin. Moving closer the shadow dissipated and Shawn could see Alexi's blue eyes clearly. "I've always wanted that."

Shawn could feel the tears of relief that burned her eyes. "I'm so sorry for the way I acted." She swallowed trying to keep her voice under control. She didn't want to be needy, she wanted to prove she could take care of herself. But, with Alexia, she needed her and wanted her in her life.

"No, I'm sorry. I pushed instead of suggested." Alexi reached down and pulled Shawn into a standing position. "What do you say we go inside and talk this thing through?"

"Yes, I really want to do that." Shawn's heart raced as Alexi held her hand and led her up the stairs to unlocked the door. Stepping back, Alexi used her bag to hold the door open as she allowed Shawn to enter first. Throwing the bag on the floor, Alexi didn't let go of Shawn's hand until they had reached the kitchen. She needed to keep the fragile bond intact and holding Shawn's hand in hers somehow accomplished that for the moment.

"I'm starved, you hungry?" Alexi opened the refrigerator to survey its contents. There hadn't been much at her parents, because they were away, and she hadn't felt much like going out and getting anything either. Right now, she was starving.

"I could eat." Shawn replied grinning, actually she could probably eat a small pony given the chance. She hadn't eaten much all weekend because of stress.

"Hmm, well there isn't much going on here. Want to order a pizza?" Alexi looked hopefully over the refrigerator door at the blonde. She didn't want to cook or go out, and a pizza sounded wonderful right then.

Shawn nodded enthusiastically and replied, "Yeah, sounds good to me."

"Great, I'll order one and we can relax and talk." Alexi moved to pick up the telephone and Shawn nodded, moving into the living room.

She sat down on the sofa and flipped through the TV guide nervously. She wasn't sure what to do next and felt uncomfortable with these awkward feelings, until the raven-haired woman came into the living room and sat next to her on the sofa.

Alexi could sense Shawn's nervousness and wanted things to be like they had been before between them. She didn't want the woman to feel awkward around her and sat down next to her and reached over to hold Shawn's hand warmly.

"I'm really sorry I overreacted and came on so strongly on Friday. I was just frustrated at the way they were treating you and, I guess, I just wanted to stop it." Alexi offered quietly, looking down at the hand she was holding and stroked the back of it gently. She didn't want any more distance between them or any more misunderstandings.

Shawn quickly squeezed the hand that held hers and looked up. "I know, I snapped at you when I should have been snapping at Pete and the auditors. I'm sorry I took everything out on you. I was feeling boxed in and it was my own fault, not yours."

Alexi nodded her understanding and looked deeply into green eyes and quietly asked, "You don't really feel I'm like your mother, do you?"

"No! That was mean thing to say. You are nothing like my mother at all. I'm sorry I said that and hurt you." Shawn looked away sadly and sighed. She had made such a mess of everything.

"I love you." Alexi simply replied and looked directly at Shawn.

Shawn's heart gave a leap and she looked into sincere blue eyes. "I love you too!".

"Yeah, but did you know that I am 'IN' love with you too?"

"I do now." Shawn replied quietly and leaned over to kiss Alexi on the cheek. She felt so many raging emotions that it was hard to keep them under control and not jump on top of Alexi.

Alexi smiled and leaned over and pulled Shawn into her arms and began kissing her long and thoroughly, not leaving an inch of flesh on the woman's face untouched. Shawn wrapped her arms tightly around Alexi's firm body and pulled her closer. Their bodies twisted into a comfortable familiar position as Alexi slowly pushed Shawn backward onto the couch and lay partially on her lover. Shawn's hands instinctively moved to cup Alexi's rear as the other woman's hands moved to stroke the breast of the woman under her. Breaths came out in gasps and moans as hands slid under shirts to caress familiar bare flesh. Shawn pushed Alexi's shirt up her back and ran her hands up and down the soft smooth skin. Alexi slipped her hand under Shawn's sports bra to feel the curve of her breasts. Before she could reach any further, the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of their pizza. 'It figures the one time the damn thing is delivered early would have to be now.'<\i> Alexi thought sarcastically and gave Shawn one last kiss before getting up and straightening her clothing. Mouthing, 'later'<\i> , Alexi winked and went to answer the door.


With the pizza box discarded on the floor, the two women lay on the bed watching the finish of the Pepsi 400 race. Shawn giggled as her driver passed Alexi's causing the woman to shout at the screen.

"Laugh now, but it will be my boy who crosses the finish line first!" Alexi replied and tickled Shawn's rib cage.

Shawn squirmed away from the fingers and laughed, "Oh Yeah? But, we're in front now!"

"Don't look now, but Earnhardt just passed Martin again!" Alexi looked on gleefully as the cars roared around the track and the leader pulled away from the others.

"Isn't the football game on yet?" Shawn baited Alexi, knowing full well how much watching the races meant to Alexi. Even though she had never been a NASCAR fan she loved spending Sunday afternoons with Alexi curled up in front of the television. She was becoming a racing fan quickly, but football was Shawn's passion and with the season was about to begin, Alexi agreed she would watch the games with Shawn. Luckily, most of the game times didn't coincide with the races and they could watch both.

"Nope! Earnhardt has to win first!" Alexi gloated, "And he's just about to cross the finish line."

Shawn lay back on the bed laughing as Alexi jumped up when the cars roared across the finish line with Earnhardt leading the pack.

"Yes!" Alexi bounced around on the bed causing Shawn to laugh harder at the woman's antics. She loved the way Alexi would let her guard down around her and be herself.

Finally exhausted, Alexi flopped back down on the bed and rolled over to pull Shawn toward her. Half on top of the woman she looked down into green eyes filled with laughter. "So you find me funny, huh?"

"No, I think you look cute." Shawn replied trying to keep the stronger woman's hands from tickling her sides. The response only egged Alexi on and she held Shawn down and tickled her until she cried for mercy. Laughing, Alexi leaned down and began to kiss Shawn teasingly. Shawn growled and took up the challenge and averted her face each time Alexi's probing lips came near. Alexi continued her onslaught on Shawn's lips and Shawn lightly licked across the top of the teasing woman's lip before allowing her to consume her in a passionate kiss. Alexi took the first opportunity to deepen it and held the blonde tightly to her as she kissed her, letting her desires known. Without a moment's hesitation Shawn opened her heart and her body in a need of her own. Hands and lips led the way in exploration as their passion consumed all conscious thoughts and they raced to their own finish line.

Hearts reclaimed, the two women lay back in one another's arms listening to the slowing beat of their hearts. "I love you." Alexi whispered her voice hoarse with emotion.

"I love you too." Shawn knew these were more than words that she spoke. It had been a long time she had let anyone get as close to her as Alexi had in such a short time. Shawn could feel the old walls begin to tremble and pieces fall every time Alexi took her in her arms.


Monday morning came all to quickly, but by then Alexi and Shawn agreed to face whatever came together. Alexi would support whatever decisions Shawn made without interference, but would be there if Pete got out of hand. Alexi had her limits and Shawn knew that if Pete started any serious trouble, Alexi would finish it and him.

Arriving at her office, Shawn found a note on her desk from Pete telling her that she was late for the head auditors and if she wanted to keep her job, should get down to the line ASAP. Shawn threw her stuff on the desk and fumed, "What damn meeting?" Not having time to look for the answer, she hurried back down the stairs and through the plant.

"What's up?" Alexi drew into stride as Shawn raced up next to her as she headed down the main line. She could see that Shawn was tense, already the relaxed, self-confident attitude was gone. 'Damn!'<\i> Alexi exclaimed to herself.

Pete's got a meeting going with the big shots from the home office and he didn't tell me about it. Now, he has the nerve to leave me a note telling me I'm late. I can only imagine what he's told them!" Shawn didn't miss a step as she relayed the information.

"Just stand up for yourself if he starts anything. You don't have anything to lose by calling him on it." Alexi replied and touched the blonde's back and stopped when they reached her station. "Good luck!" Shawn nodded and kept walking toward the group of men at the end of the line.

"I'm here if you need me!" Alexi called out and Shawn turned, her frown was quickly replaced by a smile as she winked at the taller woman before moving on down the line.

"About time you decided to join us." Pete voice was sarcastic and loud as he announced Shawn's arrival.

"If I had known you had scheduled a meeting, I would have come in earlier." Shawn replied without missing a beat. She looked each man in the eye and let him know that she was not intimidated. Even though her insides were a quivering mass of uncertainty, she wasn't about to let them have the satisfaction of knowing it.

"Whatever." Pete replied sarcastically and turned back toward the men. "Now, where were we?"

One of the men spoke up and pointed to a group of workmen scrambling around one of the robots in a frantic attempt to complete repairs, and in a clipped voice replied, "You were going to tell us how this line seems to develop so many costly accidents."

Pete shook his head and turned to Shawn as he spoke, "Maybe we should let Shawn field that one since she keeps making these changes to the line. This is the first time in 4 quarters that we have not had a perfect safety record."

The men all turned skeptically toward Shawn who looked back exasperated. "I take it you are blaming me again for something I did not do?"

"Each and every violation that has occurred has been a direct result of your actions. You make changes that are not within code. Who do you suggest is to blame? Obviously, your lack of ability to do the job is not only causing us some serious down time, but is dangerous to the line workers." Pete looked at her triumphantly thinking, 'I have you now you bitch. These are the big guys and you aren't going to get away from it this time. So pack you bags little girl and hit the road and leave this work to the men.'<\i> He turned back to the head honchos and added, "We had a worker injured when the line malfunctioned last month due to a improper line task change."

"Wait a minute! If you recall, my SWI's had been altered AFTER I released them and the changes that caused the malfunction were yours to begin with." Shawn defended herself hotly.

"I have ten years of seniority at this plant and nothing has happened like this until you arrived. Are you trying to say this was deliberate on my part?" Pete's voice was beginning to border on indignation and Shawn was ready to hit him and wipe the condescending look off his face, but she knew that would do nothing to strengthen her position.

"I don't having a woman working here that threatening to you?" Shawn retorted and stood her ground on what she thought was a losing battle. But, she'd be damned if she'd go down out without a fight.

Pete spun around and faced Shawn, he could see the defiance in her eyes and smiled. "Well, you can sling all the mud you want, but the facts speak out in this matter. We have documented proof in each and every instance of you being the IE to initiate the changes in question. So, I guess we should let that stand as the record and go from there." The group nodded in agreement and Shawn's bravo began to fade quickly. Obviously, there was no way she was going to convince these men that she did not initiate those work orders.

After all her scraping and fighting to get to this point, she was still going to lose the war. She wouldn't have minded if it were because she couldn't do the job, but it was because she was a woman and nothing more.

Pete could tell that he had Shawn right where he wanted her and she was ready to concede, and went in for the kill. "Well, I suggest we go up to the office and we can go over the SWI's in question and you gentleman can see for yourself." The little group headed back down the line lead by Pete and trailed by a dejected blonde. She looked on the line for Alexi, but her station was empty. She raised an eyebrow at Angel and the older woman shrugged and pointed toward the back where they were headed. Shawn nodded her slumped shoulders slightly and continued to follow the group to the office. Entering the office Pete stopped abruptly by the presence of another man sitting confidently at his desk. He knew this one was someone important by the way the group stiffed and almost came to attention. Introductions were made and Shawn cringed when she found out that the man in question was Steven Jaffe, the VP for Operations for the entire corporation.

'Well, if you are going to go out, go out big, I say!'<\i> Shawn thought and resigned herself to more humiliation. She went toward her desk and just sat down and began to quietly gather what few possessions she had brought with her.

"So what have we decided gentlemen?" Jaffe's voice boomed out in the silence of the crowded office. Even Pete's earlier bravado seemed to have paled with the presence of this man.

'Whimp!'<\i> Shawn thought sarcastically as she looked at Pete.

The auditors looked from one to another before one spoke up for the group. "We came back here to look over the reports and Work Instructions to see if this is indeed a design error or not. So far, every indication is proving that it is."

"Let's see these orders." Jaffe looked directly at Pete who scrambled forward and pulled the orders for everyone to view. The VP and others quietly looked over the false SWI's and Shawn remembered her copies that she had locked away. She reached into her pocket and retrieved her keys to unlock the bottom drawer of her desk.

Opening the drawer, her heard sank again as she saw that it was empty. She quickly looked up at Pete who was looking directly at her and winked at her before turning back the group of men huddled around his desk.

Shawn was speechless and just sat at her desk staring at the back of Pete. She couldn't believe his audacity, she was finished and Shawn knew it. If she could crawl away somewhere, she would have, but had no choice but to sit and wait for her execution.

"Whose initials are these? They appear on each of the change orders in question." Jaffe pointed toward the Change Record portion of the Work Order, which listed all changes made, the date and who initiated them. Pete smugly replied, "They are Shawn's" Pete pointed over at the blonde causing every head to turn in her direction. "I see. They are blatantly in error, even I can see they will cause problems. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Shawn stood up shakily and replied, "Would you believe me if I told you those are not the changes I released?"

The VP thought for a moment and kept his face void of expression.

"That depends, can you prove it?"

Shawn looked down at her empty desk drawer and signed. "It seems my copies have disappeared along with a few line supervisors memories." Shawn's voice was low with a sarcastic edge to it, at this point, it didn't much matter what happened.

"So, are you trying to say that I not only falsified work orders, but stole your SWI's as well?" Pete snapped out challenging at Shawn. When the woman didn't answer, but looked over his shoulder he turned and realized that Alexi and another man had entered the office. Alexi towered over the slight man who stood with a stack of computer printouts in his hand and Pete began to tell Alexi to get out when the little man began speaking.

"She may not be saying it, but I am." The stranger replied calmly and walked past Pete toward Mr. Jaffe. Pete looked at Alexi and his face immediately drained of color when he saw the triumphant look on the tall woman's face. He spun around to watch as Tim dropped his printout on top of the pile of work orders they had been going over.

"Sir, these are the reports of the program that I told you about. The one I installed to monitor activity on the system at this plant. I've highlighted the time and individual that entered the system on the dates to coincide with the security breaches. They match the dates on the SWI's." Tim leaned over and began pointing to the references he has just quoted. Shawn moved closer toward the group of men and Alexia, and stopped when she felt Alexi's warm hand on her back. Looking up at the tall woman questioningly, Alexi just winked and indicated for her to watch Tim. Shawn turned back toward the group of men and just listened in rapt amazement.

"You correlated each instance to the dates that I gave you?" His boss, Jaffe asked as he casually flipped through the printout and nodded his approval. Finally, the VP looked up at Pete and asked, "And whose initials are these?"

Pete's face turned from white to red as he stammered his denial. "I don't know what this is all about, but I had nothing to do with those Work Orders!"

"But this indicates that you were the only one to access the system at the time of each of the changes. On two occasions, Ms. Adams wasn't even logged on to the system. The routing clearly goes from your ID to hers. What do you have to say about that?" The VP stood watching the supervisor try to come up with a valid answer and knew that he would not be able to, breaches in security were not going to be taken lightly at this corporation. What disgusted him more than this, was the reasoning behind it. If more workers just did their jobs and not worried about 'who' was doing a successful job next to them, things would run a whole lot smoother and lot more profitable for all of them.

"I....I don't care what that report says. You can't pin this on me!" Pete replied hotly. "I've been a good employee with the company and then she comes along and makes a mess of everything, and I'm the one in question? I'm union and there is no way you can do this to me."

Alexi could feel her body tensing as Pete's anger got stronger and she almost didn't catch what Shawn was saying.

"Just because I am a woman, you have done nothing but harass me and cause all kinds of trouble for me. I don't think any union is going to support you in a sexual harassment suit! Don't forget, I'm part of that union too!" Shawn bristled with unbridled anger and resentment toward Pete.

Pete looked around at the men in the group who stood mutely. "Are you going to support her in these lies and crap?" The VP just shook his head in disgust and nodded toward the men assembled who exited the office gratefully. Mr. Jaffe and Tim were the last to leave and as Tim held the door for the man, the VP turned and looked directly at Pete. "I suggest you pack your things up. You won't have to worry about working with Ms. Adams in the future because you no longer work here."

"What?" Pete stood dumbfounded as his plan backfired right in his face.

"You have two choices, leave quietly or security will escort you out." The VP waited until Pete finished slamming through his drawers collecting his things and left the office. Jaffe turned to Tim and replied, "See if you can help Ms. Adams get things cleaned up around here and I'll see you tomorrow back at the home office."

"Yes, Sir!" Tim closed the door and turned to the women in the office as he broke into a big smile. "Ladies?" Shawn and Alexi grabbed him in a mutual hug and the celebration could be heard down on the plant floor where security quietly followed an angry man toward the exit.

Alexi went back to the line while Tim and Shawn spent the better part of the day correcting all of Pete's sabotage. At the end of the day, the two waited for shift end and Alexi to join them.

"Did someone mention food and a drink?" Tim questioned as they walked down the stairs from the office.

"Sounds good to me, I'm starving!" Shawn replied looking over at Alexi whose stomach growled before she could say anything.

"I'll take that as a yes." The blonde snickered and called out to Angel to join them. The four of them climbed into their cars and met at their usual place.

"Maybe we should have gone somewhere else." Alexi commented scanning the parking lot for any sign of Pete's car. This is where they had trouble with him before and Alexi was in no mood to have a repeat performance today.

"I hadn't thought about that." Shawn replied which halted the group in the middle of the parking lot.

"I don't see his car." Angel commented as she looked around at the parked cars. "Maybe, he's too embarrassed to come here."

"Possibly, but why don't I go inside and have a look first." Alexi offered and the three hung back until she came back out. Alexi had scanned the bar and saw a few of Pete's friend's, but not the man himself. Feeling edgy, but assured that he wasn't in the bar, she motioned for the others to join her. The group took a back booth and ordered a round of drinks while they looked over the menu.

When the drinks arrived, they placed their order and Angel excused herself to call her husband to tell him she'd be late.

"So, what do you think will happen now?" Shawn asked Tim.

"I'm not sure. Pete is definitely gone, I don't think the Union will support him because the issue is security violations and he was caught red-handed." Tim ticked off his opinion and then downed the last of his beer in mock salute.

"I have to say Tim, you had me pretty worried when you disappeared like that." Alexi looked over at the man with a raised eyebrow. She wasn't real thrilled with that and was still a bit mad about it.

"I know, I'm sorry. It was a last minute thing. My boss came into my office and said let's go and I barely had time to pack a bag before we were on the plane. He kept me running for the entire week and, I'll admit it, I plain forgot about everything else." Tim signaled for another round of drinks and then looked apologetically over at Shawn. "I'm sorry it was so rough for you."

"Well, I have to say that there were a few times, I was wondering if I would qualify for unemployment benefits!" Alexi smiled that her friend's humor had returned. She had to agree that there were times she thought Pete would win and it still made her angry just thinking about it. Angel approached the table and caught Alexi's eye and motioned behind her. "We've got trouble!" Alexi looked past her to see Pete sit down at a table with the two men she had seen previously.


Alexi's eyebrow shot up at Angel for an explanation. "He was in the restroom and came out just in front of me. I waited until he well ahead of me before I came around the back way. He didn't see me and I don't think he's seen you back here. Let's just play it cool and maybe he will leave without any problems."

Alexi looked up at Shawn and Tim and grimaced thinking, 'Just what we need now, can't we ever get away from him.' The waitress arrived with their order before she could comment and after she left, Alexi replied, "Let's just eat and enjoy ourselves. He isn't going to start any trouble in here." 'Now, outside is another story.'<\i> Alexi didn't voice her fears but kept an eye on Pete for any sign of recognition of their group. He had his back to the group, which was good for the moment. The group ate and talked in a low key, the celebration definitely damped by the presence of their ex-tormentor.

Shawn could tell that Alexi was tense and at one point put her hand on the woman's thigh and gently squeezed it. Alexi grasped the hand on her leg and held it letting the blonde know that she was all right. Looking over at Shawn she had to grin at the look on the blonde's face and silently chuckled, 'She knows me alright!'<\i>

Shawn chuckled and looked back over to Angel and the smile on the blonde's face tensed as she looked past the woman's shoulder. Pete's friends had stood up and were talking to Pete facing their direction. After a few tense moments, the two men left Pete still sitting at the table with his beer.

"Looks like his friends can't stand his company either." Alexi chuckled, trying to lighten the mood of their group. Angel and Tim glanced over their shoulders and looked back nodding.

"Can't say that I blame them." Angel retorted causing everyone to smile. They continued eating and watching Pete, who finished the pitcher of beer and left unsteadily by himself without so much as a glance in their direction.

"I can't believe he is driving in that condition." Shawn replied shaking her head disgustedly. "Want me to offer him a ride home?" Alexi smart-aleck reply got her a shoulder jab and chuckle. "Very funny!"

The group finished their meal, but were in no hurry to leave. Their mood had lightened considerably without the presence of Pete. They talked and finished eating, spending another hour before getting up and paying their check. Alexi led the group outside and kept a watchful eye on the parking lot. She didn't see any sign of Pete nor his truck as they walked to their cars. Shawn hugged Tim and thanked him again as Alexi unlocked the car door. Alexi didn't hear Pete's approach until he was right on top of them.

Pete had exited the bar and spotted Alexi's car right off. He was ready to turn around and go back inside to confront the blonde he knew would be with the tall dyke. "Damn freaks! Isn't bad enough they take men's jobs, but then they want to be men too!" He paced around the parking lot before unlocking his pickup and sitting behind the wheel debating what he should do. He wasn't ready to just walk away and not say anything, after all, they cost him his job! He waited until he saw them exit the bar and got out of his car ready for a confrontation.

"Now, I understand!" Pete called out and pointed at Tim. "You had inside help. What are you doing screwing him AND her to get ahead?" Shawn stepped back from Tim at Pete's shout and her eyes narrowed when she heard the accusation.

"Bite me!" Shawn replied startled and angry at being caught off guard. She was sick of this jerk's constant harassment too.

Pete exploded and advanced on the little blonde jabbing his finger into her chest. "You little bitch....why couldn't you just stay where you belonged instead of coming here and bringing your trash with you!" Pete pushed Shawn backwards and she fell into the car, quickly bringing Alexi around from the other side to step between the two.

"Back off asshole! You touch her one more time....." Alexi threatened and pushed Pete away from Shawn.

Pete staggered backwards and caught his balance. His nostrils flaring in anger, just itching to hit someone. The tall dyke stood in his way and he really felt the need to teach her a lesson or two.

"Or what gonna stop me? Think you're man enough?" Pete jibed at Alexi, who didn't need much provocation at this moment, could feel her hands instinctively curling into fists and tighten. She didn't like to fight, but she wouldn't back down either.

When Pete got into her face and shoved her backward into Shawn, the two women stumbled back against the car. Alexi righted herself quickly grabbing at the blonde to make sure she did fall down. Looking over her shoulder at Shawn her eyes asked if she was okay.

Shawn nodded her reply and suddenly winced when she saw Pete's movement out of the corner of her eye. Alexi swung around in time to have Pete's hand connect with her face. The resounding slap could be heard loudly in the parking lot and the sting caused Alexi's eye to water in response, setting her blood to boil.

'Oh..oh!'<\i> Angel quickly grabbed Tim and pulled him back, she knew what was about to happen and that he would be stupid enough to get in the middle of this one and get himself hurt. This was one altercation that Angel knew Alexi needed to handle by herself, but of course, that didn't mean she couldn't use some back up. Angel grabbed her cell phone and made a familiar call thinking, 'dejevu'.

"You son of a....." Alexi spat out too angry to complete her sentence and swung her fist as hard as she could to connect with Pete's stomach. Pete doubled over suddenly winded and feeling instantly nauseous. Alexi's hand went to wipe the tears that blurred her vision when Pete recovered and shoved her back against the car hard and began slapping her. Alexi tried moving her head to avoid the slaps and finally reared her head back and butted him as hard as she could. She heard a crack and Pete shout in pain as he released her and stepped back.

"My broke my freakin nose!"

"Yeah, well good, then you won't feel this!" Alexi lifted her knee and connected solidly with the man's crotch. The only sound she heard was the rapid intake of breath and Pete hitting the ground holding his nose and his crotch. Alexia stood looking down at him waiting for him to get up. She fought hard to restrain herself from kicking the man. A tap on Alexi's shoulder brought her spinning around in a defensive motion. Her fist was caught in mid-air and Alexi struggled to clear her vision and free herself from her captor. Alexi's struggles instantly ceased when a voice asked, "Remember me?"


Her vision clearing of it's rage, she looked directly into the face of Officer Dunn. Her adrenaline and rage slowly seeped out of her body, leaving her breathing hard and looking into a very serious face.

"Officer's it going?" Alexi asked breathing deeply to calm herself down. Her hands still shook from the anger and adrenaline rush she had just experienced.

"Obviously not as exciting as your night. Luckily, we were in the area." The officer replied looking past her to his partner who was kneeling next to Pete as he tried to hold himself and get up at the same time. Alexi turned to look back at Pete and shrugged her shoulders.

Dunn moved toward his partner bringing Alexi with him. His partner looked up at their approach grinning. Dunn knew that his partner, Ryan, did not like Pete from their last altercation. "He's in pain but he'll survive. I think his nose may be broken."

"Okay, I call in for medical." Dunn called into his radio for a unit to be dispatched.\par Ryan nodded and looked down at Pete and whispered, "Ooh, I bet that hurt," before getting up to join Dunn and Alexi. Dunn heard what he said and looked away from his partner back at Alexi, his face once again expressionless.

"So want to tell me your story? I guess I'll have to wait to hear his."

Before Alexi could open her mouth to reply, three voices chimed in, "It was his fault." Shawn, Angel and Tim approached the officers ready to defend their friend.

"Okay, okay. One at a time." Dunn waved the three to stop and turned back to the tall woman. "I want you to explain."

"No problem." Alexi replied and continued, "We came out from having dinner and he jumped Shawn. He was mad because he got fired today and blames her. If I had known he was here, we never would have come here for dinner. But, I wasn't going to let him hurt her and when I told him to stop, he hit me. After that well...." Alexi's voice tailed off as she nodded toward Pete who was slowly getting to his feet.

"I want to file assault charges." Pete's voice was raspy and nasally. The officers took defensive positions as Pete stood slightly tottering and Dunn relaxed and motioned to his partner to help him. "Why don't you sit him in the back of the squad car until the paramedics arrive. They could hear the sirens in the background as they approached reminding everyone of the situation.

"I want that bitch arrested!" Pete's voice shouted out as he moved painfully toward the squad car. He wished he had just stayed on the ground. His head was spinning and the pain below was more than he had ever experience in his entire life.

"I think you should worry more about whether the charges are going to be filed against you for assault and battery. I do know that a restraining order will be issued against you to keep you away from these women. Sounds like this problem of yours has already cost you your job. So, I suggest that you concentrate on getting patched up and moving on. " Dunn replied and moved to wave the driver over toward them.

After Pete was loaded up and the ambulance moved away, the officers went back to the group gathered by Alexi's car.

"We've had a talk with him and I don't think he will be bothering you anymore, but can I suggest that you stay clear of this place for a while, just to let things cool down?" Dunn looked at Alexi for confirmation of his request.

Alexi nodded her head slightly and looked at Shawn as she spoke. "I think we may be going out of town for a few days to my parents place, maybe when we get back things will have toned down a bit and Pete will too busy looking for a new job to harass Shawn anymore." Alexi continued to watch Shawn for signs of whether she agreed or not to her plan. When Shawn smiled at her and nodded enthusiastically, she felt relief washing over her. Suddenly, she was just very tired and wanted to go home. It was going to take some time for her to get over what she had just done. Alexi had never been a fighter by nature, she was against violence in any form, but her need to protect was stronger than any other emotion she may have felt.

"Sounds like a good plan to me. We will be in touch if Mr. Burns decides to press charges. I think we've dissuaded him from doing so, but if he does, you might want to consider a counter suit. With the past trouble in his file, you shouldn't have any problem with the judge." Dunn replied and closed his notebook.

"Thank you." Alexi replied as they all moved toward their cars. "Let's hope this is over and done with here."

"If Mr. Knight is smart he will move on and let this go." Ryan replied as the officers moved toward the squad car. They waited for the group to get in their respective cars and watched them pull out of the parking lot before following them out.


The next morning Alexi awoke tired and sore, her face was puffy and her eye was already discolored.

"I look like I went three rounds with Mike Tyson." Alexi remarked gingerly holding a cold cloth to her face.

"I don't know, it kind of makes you look cute in a hero sort of way." Shawn replied grinning. "Come here and let me kiss the boo-boo."

Alexi moved toward Shawn smiling. "I've never been one to turn that down. I look like a hero, huh?"

"Oh yeah, to me you do. Did I ever thank you for coming to my rescue last night?" Shawn asked as she gently placed a kiss on the swollen cheek and hugged Alexi's body.

"No, not properly, but we were too tired. I'll let you thank me when we get to my parents house." Alexi teased and pulled Shawn closer within her arms, resting her chin on the top of the blonde head.

Shawn pulled back quickly, "I..I can't...not at your parents!" The expression on her face was priceless and Alexi began to laugh.

"You're joking right?"

"No, I'm quite serious, but if you don't want to thank me, that's okay." Alexi teased pretending she was hurt and turned away.

"I do want to thank you...just not at your parent's house. But, if that is what you really want then, I guess, okay...." Shawn was troubled by the thought actually doing it in their home...but she didn't want Alexi to think she didn't love her. 'God, I hope they are as accepting as Alexi says they are or this is going to be one quick trip.'<\i>

Alexi couldn't tease Shawn anymore as she saw the conflicting emotions cross the woman's face. "Hey, don't worry. They won't care."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm positive...anyway, they are at my brother's for the next few weeks and won't even be there." Alexi replied nonchalantly and moved to sit on the end of the bed to put her shoes on.

"What! You mean all this time you knew...I thought....?" Shawn blurted out and when tall woman chuckled, Shawn launched herself at Alexi knocking her backward onto the bed. Shawn straddled Alexi's body and leaned down into her face. "Ooh, you are so going to pay for this one!"

"Promises! Promises!" Alexi replied grinning from ear to ear. "I can hardly wait!"

Shawn leaned down and kissed Alexi long and sensually, causing blood pressures to rise. Cutting off the kiss in mid-stride, Shawn got up off of Alexi and the bed, leaving the woman with her eyes closed still in the midst of their kiss and replied, "Hmm, you will get yours, but I think you will just have to wait!"

Shawn walked out of the bedroom and headed down the hall and called over her shoulder, "Let's get a move on it or we are going to be late for work. Our vacation doesn't start until tomorrow."

"You big tease!" A frustrated voice called out from the bedroom.

"Payback's are a bitch aren't they!" Shawn smiled sweetly and waited for Alexi to join her.


They were on the road early the next morning with Alexi once again traveling toward her parents' house. This time she had the missing part of her sitting right next to her and the trip seemed so much more enjoyable. They relaxed and talked about many things and Alexi finally asked Shawn to move in with her permanently. They talked about Shawn's family and how Shawn was dealing with the severance of ties with them. Shawn admitted that it hurt deeply, but it had been their choice not to be a part of her life. She still loved them and hoped that one day they would be able to understand that for the first time in her life Shawn truly loved and felt loved in return.

Alexi was able to not only open her arms, but her heart. The cynicism of the past seemed to have no place in their relationship. Alexi was able to trust without doubt or worry of the future. She believed in Shawn and the love Shawn showed for her. There was no need to question its motives or where it came from, it was simply there and simply offered up to her.

There was no hidden agenda between the two women and what they had to offer each other was clearly laid out before them. In their eyes it was a feast, a banquet of all things good, a belief that somehow they would make it together.

The days they spent at Alexi's parents' home, walking through the woods and relaxing next to the stream brought them closer. The evenings together brought a renewed passion and late into the night the only sound to be heard was the beating of one heart.

The End.

fs24 K. Stoley

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